mars missions

Mars has been a planet that has been incredibly difficult to land on. There have been 56 Mars missions (so far), with only 26 of these missions listed as successful.

The red planet was named after the mythological god of war and other than the moon, we have sent more attempted missions there than anywhere else in space.

Some of the failures have been due to the fact that Mars was the first planet that we attempted to explore and we made a lot of mistakes.

Other failures have been due to the incredible challenge space exploration brings.

However, humanity doesn’t give up and the tenacity has brought about some success.

We currently have six satellites orbiting Mars and one of the rovers is still operational.

The data that we are receiving is incredibly valuable and we learn more about the red planet every day.

If you wonder why we are adamantly attracted to exploring Mars, it’s because scientists feel that Mars is very Earth-like and has a complex geological history.

The more that we learn about Mars, the more that we learn about Earth and our solar system.

Past Historic Missions:

  • Mars 2 and 3; Launched May 19 and 28, 1971 (USSR)
  • Mars 2 was a successful orbiter but filed in the descent craft.

    Mars 3 was successful for orbit and had a brief successful descent craft.

    Data and information was sent back during orbits.

  • Mars 4,5,6 and 7, Launched in July and August of 1973 (USSR)
  • All 4 spacecraft were rushed into production.

    Mars 4,5 and 6 successfully arrived at Mars to perform experiments in proving the ionosphere existence on Mars.

    Mars 7 missed the planet trajectory completely.

  • Viking 1, Launched August 20, 1975 (NASA, USA)
  • The spacecraft entered Mars orbit and immediately began transmitting pictures in search of a safe landing site.

    Once landed, Viking 1 conducted experiments, took soil samples and reported weather information.

    After 1,400 orbits, the orbiter was powered down in 1980 and the lander on the surface survived until November, 1982.

  • Viking 2, Launched September 9, 1975 (NASA, USA)
  • The lander touched down in the Utopia Planitia but one of its legs was on a rock so the lander had an 8 degree tilt.

    Successful atmospheric readings and scientific experiments were conducted

  • Including soil samples. The lander stopped transmitting when the batteries failed in 1980.

    During the duration it transmitted enough data to show multiple winters.

    Between Viking 1 and 2, over 1,400 images of the Martian surface were transmitted with over 50,000 images total.

  • Phobos 1; Launched July 7, 1988 (USSR)
  • Arrived in orbit around Mars for study of Mars and close-up images of Mar’s moon, Phobos.

    Only two months into the mission the controllers on Earth accidently uploaded software that commanded deactivation codes.

    The spacecraft turned its solar panels from the sun and was unable to recharge the batteries.

  • Phobos 2, Launched July 12, 1988 (USSR)
  • Although the spacecraft successfully made it to Mars orbit and started sending back initial data, just prior to deployment of two landers the onboard computer malfunctioned and the mission was lost.
  • Mars Observer, Launched September 25, 1992 (NASA, USA)
  • Failed three days away from Mars in 1993. Scientists couldn’t determine a reason.
  • Mars Global Surveyor, Launched November 7, 1996; (NASA, USA)
  • This mission was the first successful orbiter since the shutdown of Viking 1 in 1980. The Mars
  • Global Surveyor provided a wealth of information with data and images, including some of the highest resolution taken in orbit.

    The mission was extended three times, which makes it the longest-lived spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

    Contact was lost November 5, 2006.

  • Mars 96, Launched November 16, 1996 (Russian Space Agency, Russia)
  • Failed fourth stage of rocket sent the spacecraft into the ocean.
  • Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner (rovers); Launched December 4, 1996 (NASA, USA)
  • Successful landing of Pathfinder using the first airbag-assisted landing for the Martian surface. Deployment of the rover Sojourner rolled off of the ramp to send back weather and terrain images.

    The rover and lander continued to transmit data until September 27, 1997. The mission was originally only supposed to last 30 days.

  • Nozomi (Planet-B), Launched July 3, 1998 (ISAS, Japan)
  • Failed as Mars flyby due to inability to gain enough speed during Earth flyby and used up too much fuel.
  • Mars Climate Orbiter, Launched December 11, 1998 (NASA, USA)
  • Failed due to conversion error that allowed the craft too close to Mars.
  • Mars Polar Lander, Launched January 3, 1999; (NASA, USA)
  • Although the spacecraft arrived at Mars, it failed to land. Assumption is due to faulty software. No additional signal was ever received.
  • Mars Exploration Rover Spirit; Launched June 10, 2003; (NASA, USA)
  • Successfully arrived and deployed the rover Spirit in 2004 inside the Gusev crater.

    Spirit sent back images of a landscape covered in rocks and had to rove several km over the surface of Mars before it found evidence of past liquid water.

    Spirit became hobbled when one of its wheels were stuck for many years. When it was unable to move to maintain a charged battery, the mission was declared to have ended in 2011.

    Spirit was only designed to function for 6 months and lasted 7 years.

  • Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, Launched July 2, 2003; (NASA, USA)
  • Successfully arrived and deployed the rover, Opportunity, who immediately located hematite material that had been detected from space by the Mars Global Surveyor.

    Opportunity moved over 33 km of Martian terrain, collecting information and sending data back to Earth.

    A major global dust storm in 2018 caused the rover to lose power. NASA declared the mission at an end on February 13, 2019.

    Opportunity was only designed to function for around 6 months and it was successfully active for over 16 years.

  • Phoenix, Launched August 4, 2007; (NASA, USA)
  • Successfully arrived May 25, 2008
  • Phoenix landed near the north pole of Mars for the purpose of studying water ice close to the surface. Samples were dug and studied using sophisticated instruments for the chemical analysis.

    Phoenix was solar powered and ended when cloud cover and winter temperatures depleted solar power.

    Continued communication attempts resulted in declaring the mission to be dead in May, 2010.

    The mission completed all of the observations and planned science experiments

  • Phobos-Soil (Phobos-Grunt) Launched January 15, 2012; (Russia)
  • Upper stage failed to ignite after the launch and crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean.
  • Yinghuo-1 Launched January 15, 2012 (China)
  • Piggybacked onto Phobos-Grunt, crashed with Phobos-Grunt


  • What was the country that sent the first orbiters to Mars?
  • What was the longest-lived Mars orbiter?
    Mars Global Surveyor
  • What were the names of 2 of the Mars rovers?
    Spirit and Opportunity
  • What was the mission purpose of the 2007 Phoenix mission to Mars?
    studying water ice close to the surface
  • Why did the Japanese Nozomi (Planet-B) fail?
    used up too much fuel
  • How many Mars spacecrafts did the USSR send out?
    6, Mars 2-7