This Day in Space History – December 4th, 1996 – Mars Pathfinder Launched

A mission that launched the first rover to wheel across another planet was launched 20 years ago today.

The Mars Pathfinder Mission, developed by NASA, was launched into space aboard a Delta II rocket on December 4th, 1996.


The rover with the Mars Pathfinder mission encounters a massive Martian rock! Courtesy: NASA

The mission included a pair of vehicles—a lander and a rover named Sojourner. The rover made history by becoming the first unmanned rover to explore another planet (several lunar rovers had already been done by this point). It successfully landed on Mars the next year, with a variety of instruments and cameras to study the Martian surface.

The mission was only expected to last a week or two, but ended up going on for nearly three months. During it’s time on the Red Planet, it studied many rocks and other elements of the Martian surface, studied the atmosphere, took over 15,000 photographs and returned even more scientific data.

Future Martian rovers have been even more successful in studying the Red Planet. The rover features prominently in the novel “The Martian” and its feature film adaptation.


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