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
MissionOriginLaunchedIntentResult
Marsnik 1 (Korabl 4)USSR1960flybylaunch failure
Marsnik 2 (Korabl 5)USSR1960flybylaunch failure
Sputnik 22 (Korabl 11)USSR1962flybyEarth orbit only
Mars 1USSR1962flybyradio failed
Sputnik 24 (Korabl 13)USSR1962flybyEarth orbit only
Mariner 3US1964flybylaunch shroud failed to jettison
Mariner 4US1964flybyfirst flyby
Zond 2USSR1964flybyradio failed
Mariner 6US1969flybyreturned 75 photos
Mariner 7US1969flybyreturned 126 photos
Mars 1969AUSSR1973orbiterlaunch failure
Mars 1969BUSSR1973orbiterlaunch failure
Mariner 8US1971orbiterlaunch failure
Kosmos 419USSR1971landerEarth orbit only
Mars 2USSR1971orbiter & landerlander lost on entry
Mars 3USSR1971orbiter & landercontact lost seconds after landing
Mariner 9US1971orbiterreturned 7,329 photos
Mars 4USSR1973orbiterengine failure; flew past Mars
Mars 5USSR1973orbiteronly operational a few days
Mars 6USSR1973flyby & landerlander failed on entry
Mars 7USSR1973flyby & landerlander missed the planet
Viking 1US1975orbiter & landerorbiter lasted 4 yr, lander 6+ yr
Viking 2US1975orbiter & landerorbiter lasted 2 yr, lander 3½ yr
Phobos 1USSR1988orbiter & landerlost en route to Mars
Phobos 2USSR1988orbiter & landerorbit achieved; lost near Phobos
Mars ObserverUS1992orbiterlost before Mars arrival
Mars Global SurveyorUS1996orbiteroperated for 7½ years
Mars 96Russia1996orbiter & penetratorslaunch failure
Mars PathfinderUS1996lander & rover >operated for 2½ months
NozomiJapan1998orbiterelectronics failure; Mars flyby
Mars Climate OrbiterUS1998orbiterlost on arrival
Mars Polar LanderUS1999landerlost during landing
Deep Space 2US1999penetratorslost during landing
Mars OdysseyUS2001orbiterongoing
Mars ExpressESA2003orbiterongoing
Beagle 2ESA2003landerlost during landing
SpiritUS2003roveroperated for 7½ yr
OpportunityUS2003roverongoing
Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterUS2005orbiterongoing mission
PhoenixUS2007landeroperated for 5½ months
Fobos-GruntRussia2011lander (Phobos)launch failure
Yinghuo 1China2011orbiterlaunch failure
Curiosity (MSL)US2011landeren 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.