Pathfinder wasn’t the first spacecraft to land on Mars, but then again its mission wasn’t just to land. Along for the ride was Sojourner, a 2-foot-long rover that would be the first vehicle to actually roam around the surface of Mars. Touching down in the Ares Vallis floodplain, Sojourner was equipped with a black-and-white camera and scientific probes to photograph and analyze the Martian soil. TIME’s cover story highlighted scientists’ glee over the first images of the mission.
It was just after 4 p.m. when the images began to appear on mission control monitors. They were, by any measure, astounding: scrub plains without the scrub, prairie land without the prairie grass. The eye, schooled to scout such familiar terrain for equally familiar landmarks, scanned briefly for cactus until common sense reminded the viewer that there would be none. “The little engine that could,” said Manning after the first clutch of pictures appeared, “did.” Added Muirhead: “We’ve scored a major home run here.”
Read the Cover Story: “Uncovering the Secrets of Mars.”