Mars Pathfinder was an overwhelming success as the first of a series of space probes designed, as then-NASA administrator Dan Goldin described, to be “faster, better, and cheaper.” At a cost of approximately $200 million, it was about one-twentieth the cost of the Viking spacecraft that preceded Pathfinder to Mars two decades before. By using creative strategies like the “bounce landing,” and by taking calculated risks with the technology, the Pathfinder program showed that it was possible to get a high scientific return for relatively small cost. It began a trend in space exploration that moved away from the previous model of single, higher-cost, high-complexity spacecraft, and toward a model of multiple, lower-cost missions to achieve the same scientific goals.
A 360-degree view of Mars taken by Pathfinder. (NASA)