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Space & Astronomy

First Mars rover landed 20 years ago today

By T.K. Randall
July 4, 2017 · Comment icon 2 comments

The different sizes and designs of NASA's Mars rovers over the years. Image Credit: NASA
It has been exactly two decades since NASA's Pathfinder mission touched down on the surface of Mars.
There was a time when the idea of operating a remote-controlled vehicle on another world was the stuff of science fiction, but on July 4, 1997, the dream became a reality when the Pathfinder mission, which brought with it a small rover known as Sojourner, touched down on the Martian surface.

It was the first successful Mars landing for NASA since the Viking missions in the 1970s and the rover, which was designed to operate for one week, managed to keep going for three whole months.
The mission was followed up in 2004 by the landing of two twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which began scouring the planet's surface for evidence of its watery past.

Spirit sadly stopped working back in 2010, two years before NASA's car-sized Curiosity rover landed in Gale Crater, but incredibly, Opportunity remains operational even to this day.

"Pathfinder initiated two decades of continuous Mars exploration, bringing us to the threshold of sample return and the possibility of humans on the first planet beyond Earth," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

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Comment icon #1 Posted by Noxasa 7 years ago
If you want to get an idea of how barren and lifeless the Mars surface is you can't do much better than looking at the mars surface images from the rovers in a VR headset, aside from actually going to Mars.  :-)  You really get a sense of how remote living on that planet would be.  Much different than explorers on Earth from centuries past, there you have nothing from the environment that will natively support your life.  Your survival would be completely and totally dependent on your own efforts.  With that in mind it seems the Moon would be a better step for extra-planetary colonization... [More]
Comment icon #2 Posted by Sundew 7 years ago
It certainly would be a lot closer if a rescue mission was needed: a few days vs. a minimum of six months. They supposedly have found water in the polar craters of the moon, that might solve one issue, water is a heavy payload. It's a pity there are possibly habitable exoplanets out there, but no way to reach them. We had better take care of our own world, it's the only game in town for most/all of humanity.   

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