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Pathfinder refers to a series of spacecraft missions conducted by NASA to demonstrate new technologies and capabilities for future missions. The Pathfinder missions are designed to test new technologies and methodologies in a relatively low-cost and low-risk environment.

Examples of Pathfinder missions include:

  • Mars Pathfinder, which was launched in 1996 and landed on Mars in 1997. It consisted of a lander and a small rover called Sojourner, and it was the first successful mission to land a spacecraft on Mars since the Viking landers in the 1970s.
  • The Discovery Program Pathfinder missions, which are a series of low-cost planetary missions that are focused on exploring the solar system. Examples of these missions include the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft, which orbited and landed on the asteroid Eros, and the Stardust spacecraft, which collected samples of cometary dust.
  • The New Horizons, which was launched in 2006, it was the first mission to the dwarf planet Pluto and the Kuiper Belt and it conducted the first flyby of Pluto in 2015.
  • The Mars 2020 mission, which is also known as the Perseverance Rover, it was launched in 2020 and it landed on Mars in 2021, it carries an instrument called SHERLOC, which uses a special type of spectrometer called a Raman lidar, to detect water and minerals on the planet surface.

The Pathfinder missions are important for the advancement of space exploration and technology, they are designed to test new technologies and methodologies and to pave the way for future missions.

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