A History of Missions to Mars

The planet Mars has not been easy to reach via spacecraft, as this list of missions reveals.

Viking's first image from Martian surface
Mars, at last! This is the first image sent by NASA's Viking 1 lander, taken just minutes after the spacecraft touched down on July 20, 1976. One of the lander's three footpads is at right.
NASA / JPL
Space travel isn't easy. But getting spacecraft to Mars has proven particularly challenging. The success rate for the nearly four dozen missions destined for the Red Planet (or its moon Phobos) is well below 50%.

In the table below, compiled by the editors of Sky & Telescope, green denotes a spacecraft that met its mission objectives, yellow means partial success, and red signifies that something went seriously wrong along the way — often within hours or even minutes of reaching the final destination.

A History of Martian Exploration
Mission Origin Launched Intent Result
Marsnik 1 (Korabl 4) USSR 1960 flyby launch failure
Marsnik 2 (Korabl 5) USSR 1960 flyby launch failure
Sputnik 22 (Korabl 11) USSR 1962 flyby Earth orbit only
Mars 1 USSR 1962 flyby radio failed
Sputnik 24 (Korabl 13) USSR 1962 flyby Earth orbit only
Mariner 3 US 1964 flyby launch shroud failed to jettison
Mariner 4 US 1964 flyby first flyby
Zond 2 USSR 1964 flyby radio failed
Mariner 6 US 1969 flyby returned 75 photos
Mariner 7 US 1969 flyby returned 126 photos
Mars 1969A USSR 1973 orbiter launch failure
Mars 1969B USSR 1973 orbiter launch failure
Mariner 8 US 1971 orbiter launch failure
Kosmos 419 USSR 1971 lander Earth orbit only
Mars 2 USSR 1971 orbiter & lander lander lost on entry
Mars 3 USSR 1971 orbiter & lander contact lost seconds after landing
Mariner 9 US 1971 orbiter returned 7,329 photos
Mars 4 USSR 1973 orbiter engine failure; flew past Mars
Mars 5 USSR 1973 orbiter only operational a few days
Mars 6 USSR 1973 flyby & lander lander failed on entry
Mars 7 USSR 1973 flyby & lander lander missed the planet
Viking 1 US 1975 orbiter & lander orbiter lasted 4 yr, lander 6+ yr
Viking 2 US 1975 orbiter & lander orbiter lasted 2 yr, lander 3½ yr
Phobos 1 USSR 1988 orbiter & lander lost en route to Mars
Phobos 2 USSR 1988 orbiter & lander orbit achieved; lost near Phobos
Mars Observer US 1992 orbiter lost before Mars arrival
Mars Global Surveyor US 1996 orbiter operated for 7½ years
Mars 96 Russia 1996 orbiter & penetrators launch failure
Mars Pathfinder US 1996 lander & rover > operated for 2½ months
Nozomi Japan 1998 orbiter electronics failure; Mars flyby
Mars Climate Orbiter US 1998 orbiter lost on arrival
Mars Polar Lander US 1999 lander lost during landing
Deep Space 2 US 1999 penetrators lost during landing
Mars Odyssey US 2001 orbiter ongoing
Mars Express ESA 2003 orbiter ongoing
Beagle 2 ESA 2003 lander lost during landing
Spirit US 2003 rover operated for 7½ yr
Opportunity US 2003 rover ongoing
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter US 2005 orbiter ongoing mission
Phoenix US 2007 lander operated for 5½ months
Fobos-Grunt Russia 2011 lander (Phobos) launch failure
Yinghuo 1 China 2011 orbiter launch failure
Curiosity (MSL) US 2011 lander en route

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Kelly Beatty

About Kelly Beatty

J. Kelly Beatty, S&T's Senior Contributing Editor, joined the staff of Sky Publishing in 1974 and specializes in planetary science and space exploration. Learn more about him here.

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