Mars has been a coveted object of exploration since the dawn of the human space age. Many attempts have been made to send artificial probes into orbit around the Red Planet, the first of which was made in 1960 by the USSR. “Marsnik” was the name of the first unmanned Soviet interplanetary station, which was lost during the launch phase.
A total of 15 spacecraft, rovers and orbital probes have been sent to Mars. Today, only four of them are studying the planet, as the others did not survive the trip. Space.com ranked the Mars explorers who technically gave their lives for it.
NASA’s automated interplanetary station Mariner 9 is ranked 10th. It entered orbit around the red planet on November 13, 1971, competing with the Soviet Mars-2 module, the first module to reach Mars. During the exploration, Mariner 9 was able to photograph 85% of the red planet, including the first images of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system, and detect fog near the South Pole. The spacecraft was able to transmit more than 7,000 photos to Earth and remained in orbit until contact was lost on October 27, 1972.
“Mars-2 and Mars-3:
These were the fourth generation of Soviet automated interplanetary stations (AMS) in the Mars space program. Each AMS consisted of an orbiter and a lander. “Mars-2” entered the Red Planet’s orbit in December 1971 (according to other sources, on November 27) and operated until August 22, 1972, when communications with it were lost. As for the descent module, its attempt to land on Mars was unsuccessful: abruptly entering the atmosphere, it crashed and fell to the Martian surface. The Mars-3 flight was more successful. Launched almost simultaneously with Mars-2, the vehicle reached the orbit of the red planet, achieving the first and only lander soft landing in Soviet astronautics. Data transmission from the unmanned Martian station began 1.5 minutes after landing on the surface, but stopped after 14.5 seconds, presumably due to damage caused by dust storms.
“Viking 1 and Viking 2:
While the Soviet Mars 3 module was the first module in history to make a soft landing, the U.S. Viking 1 spacecraft was the first to successfully land and carry out an exploration program. It sent the first images of the Martian landscape directly “from inside” to Earth. The two Vikings took samples of the Martian soil for biological research, ultimately finding nothing sensational. This, however, is still disputed by some scientists. Communication with Viking 1 was lost in 1982. “Viking 2” operated until April 1980, when its batteries failed.
Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner:
The Mars Pathfinder mission, organized by NASA in the latter half of the 1990s, included the Mars station and rover Sojourner (“The Alien”). The station and rover landed near the Ares Valley on July 4, 1997. Their mission was to analyze the climate, atmosphere, and composition of the Martian surface. The mission went down in space history as the first successful attempt to land a rover on the Red Planet. In addition, data obtained during the mission confirmed that Mars’ climate was once warm and humid. The last communication with the station was established on September 27, 1997. In 1998, the program was declared complete.
Mars Climate Orbiter :
Launched in December 1998, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost in September 1999 while the spacecraft was attempting to enter orbit. It is believed to have broken up in Mars’ atmosphere. The mission, which was to study weather on the Red Planet, was worth $125 million. Later, the committee discovered that the device’s demise was due to a confusion between the metric and imperial (English) systems of measurement, due to which Mars Climate Orbiter deviated from its trajectory and went into a lower than expected orbit.
Mars Polar Lander :
Mars Climate Orbiter’s companion vehicle, the Mars Polar Lander, is dead, as is its counterpart. It was launched on January 3, 1999, 11 months later. It entered Mars’ atmosphere on December 3. It is never heard from again. The Mars Polar Lander received a 90-day mission to study the south pole of the red planet. These studies were to complement the work of the Mars Climate Orbiter. The reasons for the loss of the spacecraft, as well as its current location, remain unknown. The latest missions have taken photos of the South Pole, where the remains of the Mars Polar Lander are believed to be, but it has not yet been possible to distinguish them.
The Beagle 2 lander (Beagle 2) was one of the first attempts by British explorers to explore the planet, although the mission was officially under the auspices of NASA. The mission covered everything from climate and geology studies to searching for signs of extraterrestrial life. Beagle 2 landed on Mars on December 25, 2005 but was never recovered. It was not recovered until January 2015. It was found in camera images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Beagle 2 was found to have landed at its destination point, but its operation was hampered by incomplete solar panels.
Mars Global Surveyor:
Launched in 1996, the Mars Global Surveyor project is considered one of NASA’s most successful Mars projects, allowing Americans to make up lost ground in Mars exploration. Not only did the station successfully complete its primary mission, but it was also assigned additional tasks, which it performed until it was taken out of service in 2006: after a scheduled adjustment of the solar panels, operators lost contact with Mars Global Surveyor. During its lifetime, the vehicle mapped the Red Planet’s surface, observed dust storms and acted as a switchboard for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
Phoenix Mars Lander:
The youngest of NASA’s Mars spacecraft, it was launched in 2008. After landing on the Northern Great Plain (Vastitas Borealis), the Phoenix lander spent more than five months looking for signs of water ice on the red planet, probably just below the surface (“Beyond Water!” was the mission slogan). It eventually discovered ice by studying the composition of the Martian soil. With the onset of the Martian winter, the Phoenix Mars Lander began to weaken, the work could not be completed, and in November 2008, communication with it was finally lost.
Unlike its “twin brother” Opportunity, which still roams the Martian expanse, the Spirit rover has never explored the red planet. It landed on Mars in 2004, before Opportunity arrived, but got hopelessly stuck in one of its dunes in May 2009. On May 24, 2011, NASA said it would make no further attempts to contact the rover and would leave it alone. The Spirit rover’s mourning ceremony was televised by the U.S. agency at the time.