Originally a project to perform a proof-of-concept of sending a lander and rover to the Red Planet, the Mars Pathfinder Project was the first true rover placed on Mars that had the ability to free roam and could move under its own power without any assistance from another spacecraft. This allowed it to connect an enormously large amount of data from the surface, far more than the few points that the project had been expected to retrieve.
The landing mechanism was both functional and lightweight; a parachute and set of airbags were utilized to cushion the landing of the container and rover. Landing in the Ares Vallis, an area with an unusual amount of free rocks that could lend knowledge into far deeper sections of the planet’s surface, believed to have been deposited during an enormous flood. The hope was that knowledge could be gained into the history of life and water on the Red Planet while keeping the Pathfinder Project’s rover relatively safe.
Two sections performed their respective duties during the 11 months that the final stage of the project operated for, with the lander collecting geological and atmospheric data as well as 16,500 pictures while the rover would perform chemical analyses and analyze weather data as well as its own 550 images. They both outlived their expected failure dates by large multiples, with the lander surviving for three times longer and the rover lasting 12 times as long as would be expected. This mission confirmed many suspicions that scientists had about Mars’s past, specifically that the planet was very warm and wet much like Earth in the past, with liquid water and a thicker atmosphere much resembling that of our own planet.