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Mars Exploration

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Pheonix lander: panorama of polar region

Mars has been the main target for space exploration after the Moon. Four space agencies have sent missions there, with an astounding failure rate. To some extent the motivation is the Hillary 'because it is there', but scientists have at least two specific questions to answer:

  • - What is the evolution of the planet's structure, its geology and atmosphere, and thereby clues about the evolution of the solar system?
  • - Is there life on Mars? For this question, the search for water, in particular evidence of liquid, flowing water in the planet's past, is a crucial first step.

There have been missions from the Russians, NASA, ESA, India, and China. Some of these missions have landed surface probes, with mixed fortunes. Mars, home of the God of War, has not been an easy world to explore...

Missions

MissionAgencyLaunchFly-by/OrbitLander / Rover
4 unnamed missionsUSSR1960-2all failed to reach Mars
Mars 1USSR1962Radio failed at 106 Mkm
Mariner 3NASA1964Failed
Mariner 4NASA1964First successful fly-by
Zond 2USSR1964Fly-by, radio failure
Mariner 6NASA1969Fly-by
Mariner 7NASA1969Fly-by
Mariner 8NASA1971Launch failure
Kosmos 419USSR1971Failed to leave Earth orbitFirst planned lander
Mars 2USSR1971Lander burnt up on entry
Mars 3USSR1971Lander failed after 20s on surface
Mariner 9NASA1971First successful orbiter
Mars 4USSR1973Orbiter failed to enter orbit
Mars 5USSR1973Orbiter entered orbit but failed after a few days
Mars 6USSR1973Fly-byLander failed on landing
Mars 7USSR1973Fly-byLander missed planet
Viking 1NASA1975Orbiter successfulFirst successful lander
Viking 2NASA1975Orbiter successfulSuccessful lander
Phobos 1USSR1988Orbiter planned, lost before arrivalPhobos Lander planned
Phobos 2USSR1988Orbiter lost near PhobosPhobos Lander planned
Mars ObserverNASA1992Orbiter planned, lost before arrival
Mars Global SurveyorNASA1996Orbiter successful
Mars 96USSR1996Orbiter, launch failureLander planned
Mars PathfinderNASA1996Successful orbiterSuccessful lander and Sojourner rover
NozomiISAS Japan1998Failed to reach orbit
Mars Climate OrbiterNASA1998Orbiter lost on arrival
Mars Polar LanderNASA1999Lost on arrivalLand and soil probes planned
Mars OdysseyNASA2001Orbiter still operational
Mars ExpressESA2003Orbiter still operationalBeagle 2 lander failed on touchdown
SpiritNASA2003Orbiter successfulLander Jan 25, 2004, rover successful, ceased communications 2010
OpportunityNASA2003Orbiter successfulLanded Jan 25, 2004, rover still operational
RosettaESA2004Fly-by (gravity assist), en-route to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)NASA2005Aerobraked to final science orbit, Mar-Nov 2006, still operational
PhoenixNASA2005Rocket descent 25.05.08, first in Polar region
DawnNASA2007Fly-by (en-route to asteriods)
Fobos-Grunt / Yinghuo-1Russia / CNSA (China)2011Combined mission, 2 orbiters, failed to leave Earth orbit
CuriosityNASA2011Orbiter successfulSky Crane descent, rover still operational
MOM Mars Orbiter MissionISRO (India)2013Orbiter, still in operation
MAVENNASA2013Orbiter, still in operation

Future Missions

MissionAgencyLaunchFly-by/OrbitLander / Rover
InsightNASA2016 (suspended)

Content © Andrew Bone. All rights reserved. Created : January 2, 2015 Last updated :January 16, 2016

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