The Red Planet ... long a haunting sight in the night skies of
man. It is starting to give up some of its secrets to a little
rover from Earth. The Mars Sojourner is a microwave oven
sized box of computers, instraments, motors and (importantly)
6 wheels to take it over the Martian surface in search of
interesting things to study.
Build and launched for only $147 million, the Mars
Pathfinder probe delivered its little package to the
surface on July 4th, 1997; American Independance Day. After
a 7 month journey, an untested aerobrake manouver and a
drop of about 60 ft, the air-bag like ballons that protected
the craft did exactly as hoped for and bounced a few times
before coming to a stop on the Martian plain known as Ares
Vallis. This area is thought to have been the site of a vast
flood from about 1 billion years ago.