This picture from Mars Pathfinder was taken at 9:30 AM in the martian morning (2:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time), after the spacecraft landed earlier today (July 4, 1997). The Sojourner rover is perched on one of three solar panels. The rover is 65 cm (26 inches) long by 18 cm (7 inches) tall; each of its wheels is about 13 cm (5 inches) high. The white material to the left of the front of the rover is part of the airbag system used to cushion the landing.
Many rocks of different of different sizes can be seen, set in a background of reddish soil. The landing site is in the mouth of an ancient channel carved by water. The rocks may be primarily flood debris. The horizon is seen towards the top of the picture. The light brown hue of the sky results from suspended dust.
Pathfinder, a low-cost Discovery mission, is the first of a new fleet of spacecraft that are planned to explore Mars over the next ten years. Mars Global Surveyor, already en route, arrives at Mars on September 11 to begin a two year orbital reconnaissance of the planet's composition, topography, and climate. Additional orbiters and landers will follow every 26 months.
Mars Pathfinder was developed and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. JPL is an operating division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP) was developed by the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory under contract to JPL. Peter Smith is the Principal Investigator.
Photojournal note: Sojourner spent 83 days of a planned seven-day mission exploring the Martian terrain, acquiring images, and taking chemical, atmospheric and other measurements. The final data transmission received from Pathfinder was at 10:23 UTC on September 27, 1997. Although mission managers tried to restore full communications during the following five months, the successful mission was terminated on March 10, 1998.