January 25, 2004

Missions to Mars

Missions to Mars
With all the talk about the problems with the Martian rover I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look back at the various attempts to study the planet.
The first US missions to Mars were flyby missions in the mid and late 1960s by the Mariner spacecrafts. Mariner 3 and 4 were identical spacecraft that were launched in the fall of 1964. Mariner 3 suffered a malfunction and never made it to the planet but Mariner 4 did make the 8-month journey and provided us with the first close-up pictures of the red planet. Mariner 6 & 7 followed up with launches in 1969. They flew over the equator and south Polar Regions of the planet.

The next attempt was to put a spacecraft into orbit around the planet and Mariner 8 and 9 were built to fulfill that need. However Mariner 8 failed to launch but Mariner 9 was able to make it and spent over a year in Martian orbit. Mariner 9 exceeded all primary photographic requirements by photomapping 100 percent of the planet's surface
In 1975 the next phase was launch in the form of the Viking Landers. The both arrived on planet the summer of 1976. They were designed to conduct biology experiments to test for the evidence of life. These experiments discovered unexpected and enigmatic chemical activity in the Martian soil, but provided no clear evidence for the presence of living microorganisms in soil near the landing sites.
In 1992 the Mars Observer was launched. The spacecraft was based on a commercial Earth-orbiting communications satellite that had been converted into an orbiter for Mars. The payload of science instruments was designed to study the geology, geophysics and climate of Mars. The mission ended with disappointment on August 22, 1993, when contact was lost with the spacecraft shortly before it was to enter orbit around Mars.
Launched in 1996 the Mars Global Surveyor became the first successful mission to the red planet in two decades. It entered orbit in 1997 and after a year and a half of trimming its orbit from a looping ellipse to a circular track around the planet, the spacecraft began its prime-mapping mission in March 1999. Mars Global Surveyor completed its primary mission on January 31, 2001, and is now in an extended mission phase.
1996 also saw the successful start of the Mars Pathfinder mission. Mars Pathfinder was originally designed as a technology demonstration of a way to deliver an instrumented Lander and a free-ranging robotic rover to the surface of the red planet. Pathfinder not only accomplished this goal but also returned an unprecedented amount of data and outlived its primary design life.
1998 saw the launch of the Mars Climate Orbiter. It was designed to function as an interplanetary weather satellite and a communications relay for Mars Polar Lander. The orbiter carried two science instruments: a copy of an atmospheric sounder on the Mars Observer spacecraft lost in 1993, and a new, lightweight color imager combining wide- and medium-angle cameras. Mars Climate Orbiter was lost on arrival September 23, 1999. Engineers concluded that the spacecraft entered the planet's atmosphere too low and probably burned up.
1999 also saw the launch and loss of the Mars Polar Lander. This was an ambitious mission to set a spacecraft down on the frigid terrain near the edge of Mars' south polar cap and dig for water ice with a robotic arm. Piggybacking on the Lander were two small probes called Deep Space 2 designed to impact the Martian surface to test new technologies. Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 were lost at arrival December 3, 1999.
Launched in 2001 the Mars Odyssey is an orbiting spacecraft designed to determine the composition of the planet's surface, to detect water and shallow buried ice, and to study the radiation environment.
In 2003 the Mars Express was launched. The mission's main objective is to search for sub-surface water from orbit and deliver a Lander to the Martian surface. Seven scientific instruments onboard the orbiting spacecraft will study the Martian atmosphere, the planet's structure and geology. The Lander is called Beagle 2 after the ship in which Charles Darwin set sail to explore uncharted areas of the Earth in 1831. While the landing was a reported to be a success no data has been received from the Lander.

So there is a quick break down of the history of our attempts to study Mars. I covered only the US based launches. The former Soviet Union had also sent several missions to the planet with varying degrees of success.
Most of this information comes from JPL Mars Missions page
And JPL international Missions

Posted by Pete at January 25, 2004 12:17 PM


You've left out the manned landings in 2023 and 2025. And the colony ships in 2027, 2029 (twice), 2032, 2033, 2034 through 2048 inclusive, and the monthly shuttle service (Artemis Base - Phobos) starting in 2049.

But as far as I know, the Mars Express didn't start regular service until 2072. I'll have to check with my dad.

Posted by: Trixie Misa at January 25, 2004 01:03 PM

This is true, but then everyone would start asking about the stocks and which companies made the rockets so they could get in on it.

Posted by: Pete at January 25, 2004 01:43 PM