The Mars Pathfinder (MESUR Pathfinder), later renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, was launched on December 4, 1996 by NASA aboard a Delta II just a month after the Mars Global Surveyor was launched. After a 7-month voyage it landed on Ares Vallis, in a region called Chryse Planitia on Mars, in the Oxia Palus quadrangle, on 4 July 1997. During its voyage the spacecraft had to accomplish four flight adjustments on 10 January, 3 February, 6 May and 25 June. The lander opened, exposing the rover called Sojourner that would go on to execute many experiments on the Martian surface.
The mission carried a series of scientific instruments to analyze the Martian atmosphere, climate, geology and the composition of its rocks and soil. It was the second project from NASA's Discovery Program, which promotes the use of low-cost spacecraft and frequent launches under the motto "cheaper, faster and better" promoted by the then administrator, Daniel Goldin. The mission was directed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology, responsible for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
This mission to Mars, besides being the first of a series of missions to Mars that included rovers (robotic exploration vehicles), was the most important since the Vikings landed on the red planet in 1976, and also was the first successful mission to send a rover to a planet. The then still extant Soviet Union successfully sent rovers to the Moon as part of the Lunokhod programme in the 1970s, but its two attempts to send rovers in the Mars probe program failed.
In addition to scientific objectives, the Mars Pathfinder mission was also a "proof-of-concept" for various technologies, such as airbag-mediated touchdown and automated obstacle avoidance, both later exploited by the Mars Exploration Rovers. The Mars Pathfinder was also remarkable for its extremely low price relative to other unmanned space missions to Mars. Originally, the mission was conceived as the first of the Mars Environmental Survey (MESUR) program.