Science & Technology

JPL and the Space Age: The Pathfinders (NASA Documentary) [Video]

Artist’s concept of the Mars Pathfinder mission, including the Carl Sagan Memorial Science Station and the six-wheeled rover, Sojourner. Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

It started with JPL agreeing to land something on Mars — cheaply — and do it in a radically different way. This is how the era NASA called “Faster, Better, Cheaper” began. The documentary film “The Pathfinders” tells the story of a small group of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who did not heed warnings that the audacious challenge of landing on Mars with airbags would likely not be a career-enhancing move.

With a parachute that could not be tested in a way to match the Martian atmosphere, to the late addition of an unwanted rover that would not have looked out of place in a toy store, the Mars Pathfinder mission was a doubter’s dream, taken on by a mostly young group of engineers and scientists, who were guided by a grizzled manager known for his maverick ways.

The Pathfinders retraces the journey of this daring mission to Mars that captured the hearts and minds of people around the world with its dramatic landing and its tiny rover — the first wheels ever to roll on Mars.

The Mars Pathfinder mission was created as an affordable way to transport a group of scientific tools to the Red Planet. This mission was a milestone as it marked the first time a wheeled vehicle had ever been deployed on any planet in our solar system. Furthermore, the successful delivery of Sojourner — a rover — set the foundation for the Mars rovers that we have today.

The Pathfinder mission utilized an air bag landing system and innovative petal design to land Sojourner on the Martian surface. This technique has been implemented in various iterations to deliver other rovers to the planet’s surface. Once on the ground, Sojourner completed an 83-day exploration of Mars, which exceeded the planned seven-day mission duration. During this time, the rover captured photographs and conducted measurements on the planet’s terrain, chemicals, atmosphere, and other important variables

JPL and the Space Age Video Series

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