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A Half Century of Martian Invasions

Since the dawn of the space age, spacecraft have probed the red planet, with flybys, orbiters, landers and now, rovers. Failure, as much as success accompanied these explorations. Once seen as the god of war, Mars now fascinates with tantalizing hints of a watery past, and perhaps alien life, hidden on its ruddy surface.

A Half Century of Martian Invasions

For decades, spacecraft have been flying by, orbiting, and roving across the red planet. Many missions failed, but the successes have been spectacular. Now, with NASA testing a deep-space capsule to help shuttle astronauts to Mars, we look back at the missions that pioneered exploration to the nearby planet.

Anna Scalamogna, NG Staff. Source: NASA

  • U.S.
  • U.S.S.R./Russia
  • Japan
  • European Space Agency
  • India
  • China and Russia
EarthMarsFailureFlybyOrbiterOrbiterLanded19601960196219621962196419641964196919691969196919711971197119711971197319731973197319751975198819881992199619961996199819981999199920012003200320032005200720112011201320131960196019621962196219641964196419691969196919691971197119711971197119731973197319731975197519881988199219961996199619981998199919992001200320032003200520072011201120132013Korabl 4Korabl 5Korabl 11Mars 1Korabl 13Mariner 3Mariner 4Zond 2Mars 1969AMars 1969BMariner 6Mariner 7Mariner 8Kosmos 419Mars 2 Mars 3Mariner 9Mars 4Mars 5Mars 6 Mars 7Viking 1 Viking 2 Phobos 1 Phobos 2Mars ObserverMars Global SurveyorMars 96Mars PathfinderNozomiMars Climate OrbiterMars Polar LanderDeep Space 2 Mars OdysseyMars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 LanderMars Exploration Rover (Spirit)Mars Exploration Rover (Opportunity)Mars Reconnaissance Phoenix Mars LanderMars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)Phobos-Grunt/Yinghuo-1 (joint launch)Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) (Mangalyaan)Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionKorabl 4Korabl 5Korabl 11Mars 1Korabl 13Mariner 3Mariner 4Zond 2Mars 1969AMars 1969BMariner 6Mariner 7Mariner 8Kosmos 419Mars 2 Mars 3Mariner 9Mars 4Mars 5Mars 6 Mars 7Viking 1 Viking 2 Phobos 1 Phobos 2Mars ObserverMars Global SurveyorMars 96Mars PathfinderNozomiMars Climate OrbiterMars Polar LanderDeep Space 2 Mars OdysseyMars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 LanderMars Exploration Rover (Spirit)Mars Exploration Rover (Opportunity)Mars Reconnaissance Phoenix Mars LanderMars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)Phobos-Grunt/Yinghuo-1 (joint launch)Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) (Mangalyaan)Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Orbiter/landerMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: LanderMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Orbiter/landerMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Lander/surface roverMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: LanderMission: Lander/probe Mission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Lander/surface roverMission: Lander/surface roverMission: OrbiterMission: LanderMission: Lander/surface roverMission: Lander/orbiterMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: FlybyMission: FlybyMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Orbiter/landerMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: LanderMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Orbiter/landerMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Lander/surface roverMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterMission: LanderMission: Lander/probe Mission: OrbiterMission: Orbiter/landerMission: Lander/surface roverMission: Lander/surface roverMission: OrbiterMission: LanderMission: Lander/surface roverMission: Lander/orbiterMission: OrbiterMission: OrbiterResult: Never orbited EarthResult: Never orbited EarthResult: Orbited Earth but broke apartResult: Radio failedResult: Orbited Earth but broke apartResult: Shroud didn't open properlyResult: Returned 21 imagesResult: Radio failedResult: Launch vehicle failedResult: Launch vehicle failedResult: Returned 75 imagesResult: Returned 126 imagesResult: Launch failedResult: Reached Earth orbit onlyResult: Descent system failed; lander crashed on MarsResult: Landed safely on Mars but transmitted only 20 seconds of dataResult: Returned 7,329 imagesResult: Flew by Mars but didn't orbitResult: Orbited Mars but transmitted only about 60 imagesResult: Stopped transmitting just before landing; data unreadableResult: Probe separated early and missed MarsResult: Landed intact on Mars, the first U.S. mission to do soResult: Landed on Mars; returned 16,000 imagesResult: Lost after software error made it unable to recharge its batteriesResult: Reached Mars orbit; lost after computer malfunctionResult: Lost contact 3 days before it was to go into Mars orbitResult: Orbited Mars for a decade, sending back enormous amounts of dataResult: Launch vehicle failedResult: Landed on Mars; sent back enormous amounts of data before transmissions endedResult: Never entered Mars orbitResult: Disintegrated before entering Mars orbit due to mathematical errorResult: Lander crashed on MarsResult: Crashed with Mars Polar LanderResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Lander lost; orbiter still sending images Result: Landed on Mars; got stuck in sand, ended transmissions in 2010Result: Landed on Mars; still sending back dataResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Landed on Mars; completed primary mission before transmissions endedResult: Landed on Mars; still exploringResult: Reached Earth orbit before disintegratingResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Never orbited EarthResult: Never orbited EarthResult: Orbited Earth but broke apartResult: Radio failedResult: Orbited Earth but broke apartResult: Shroud didn't open properlyResult: Returned 21 imagesResult: Radio failedResult: Launch vehicle failedResult: Launch vehicle failedResult: Returned 75 imagesResult: Returned 126 imagesResult: Launch failedResult: Reached Earth orbit onlyResult: Descent system failed; lander crashed on MarsResult: Landed safely on Mars but transmitted only 20 seconds of dataResult: Returned 7,329 imagesResult: Flew by Mars but didn't orbitResult: Orbited Mars but transmitted only about 60 imagesResult: Stopped transmitting just before landing; data unreadableResult: Probe separated early and missed MarsResult: Landed intact on Mars, the first U.S. mission to do soResult: Landed on Mars; returned 16,000 imagesResult: Lost after software error made it unable to recharge its batteriesResult: Reached Mars orbit; lost after computer malfunctionResult: Lost contact 3 days before it was to go into Mars orbitResult: Orbited Mars for a decade, sending back enormous amounts of dataResult: Launch vehicle failedResult: Landed on Mars; sent back enormous amounts of data before transmissions endedResult: Never entered Mars orbitResult: Disintegrated before entering Mars orbit due to mathematical errorResult: Lander crashed on MarsResult: Crashed with Mars Polar LanderResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Lander lost; orbiter still sending images Result: Landed on Mars; got stuck in sand, ended transmissions in 2010Result: Landed on Mars; still sending back dataResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Landed on Mars; completed primary mission before transmissions endedResult: Landed on Mars; still exploringResult: Reached Earth orbit before disintegratingResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back dataResult: Entered Mars orbit; still sending back data
EarthMarsFailureFlybyOrbiterOrbiterLandedLanded19601960196219621962196419641964196919691969196919711971197119711971197319731973197319751975198819881992199619961996199819981999199920012003200320032005200720112011201320131960196019621962196219641964196419691969196919691971197119711971197119731973197319731975197519881988199219961996199619981998199919992001200320032003200520072011201120132013Korabl 4Korabl 5Korabl 11Mars 1Korabl 13Mariner 3Mariner 4Zond 2Mars 1969AMars 1969BMariner 6Mariner 7Mariner 8Kosmos 419Mars 2 Mars 3Mariner 9Mars 4Mars 5Mars 6 Mars 7Viking 1 Viking 2 Phobos 1 Phobos 2Mars ObserverMars Global SurveyorMars 96Mars PathfinderNozomiMars Climate OrbiterMars Polar LanderDeep Space 2 Mars OdysseyMars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 LanderMars Exploration Rover (Spirit)Mars Exploration Rover (Opportunity)Mars Reconnaissance Phoenix Mars LanderMars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)Phobos-Grunt/Yinghuo-1 (joint launch)Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) (Mangalyaan)Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionKorabl 4Korabl 5Korabl 11Mars 1Korabl 13Mariner 3Mariner 4Zond 2Mars 1969AMars 1969BMariner 6Mariner 7Mariner 8Kosmos 419Mars 2 Mars 3Mariner 9Mars 4Mars 5Mars 6 Mars 7Viking 1 Viking 2 Phobos 1 Phobos 2Mars ObserverMars Global SurveyorMars 96Mars PathfinderNozomiMars Climate OrbiterMars Polar LanderDeep Space 2 Mars OdysseyMars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 LanderMars Exploration Rover (Spirit)Mars Exploration Rover (Opportunity)Mars Reconnaissance Phoenix Mars LanderMars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)Phobos-Grunt/Yinghuo-1 (joint launch)Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) (Mangalyaan)Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionNever orbited EarthNever orbited EarthOrbited Earth but broke apartRadio failedOrbited Earth but broke apartShroud didn't open properlyReturned 21 imagesRadio failedLaunch vehicle failedLaunch vehicle failedReturned 75 imagesReturned 126 imagesLaunch failedReached Earth orbit onlyDescent system failed; lander crashed on MarsLanded safely on Mars but transmitted only 20 seconds of dataReturned 7,329 imagesFlew by Mars but didn't orbitOrbited Mars but transmitted only about 60 imagesStopped transmitting just before landing; data unreadableProbe separated early and missed MarsLanded intact on Mars, the first U.S. mission to do soLanded on Mars; returned 16,000 imagesLost after software error made it unable to recharge its batteriesReached Mars orbit; lost after computer malfunctionLost contact 3 days before it was to go into Mars orbitOrbited Mars for a decade, sending back enormous amounts of dataLaunch vehicle failedLanded on Mars; sent back enormous amounts of data before transmissions endedNever entered Mars orbitDisintegrated before entering Mars orbit due to mathematical errorLander crashed on MarsCrashed with Mars Polar LanderEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataLander lost; orbiter still sending images Landed on Mars; got stuck in sand, ended transmissions in 2010Landed on Mars; still sending back dataEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataLanded on Mars; completed primary mission before transmissions endedLanded on Mars; still exploringReached Earth orbit before disintegratingEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataNever orbited EarthNever orbited EarthOrbited Earth but broke apartRadio failedOrbited Earth but broke apartShroud didn't open properlyReturned 21 imagesRadio failedLaunch vehicle failedLaunch vehicle failedReturned 75 imagesReturned 126 imagesLaunch failedReached Earth orbit onlyDescent system failed; lander crashed on MarsLanded safely on Mars but transmitted only 20 seconds of dataReturned 7,329 imagesFlew by Mars but didn't orbitOrbited Mars but transmitted only about 60 imagesStopped transmitting just before landing; data unreadableProbe separated early and missed MarsLanded intact on Mars, the first U.S. mission to do soLanded on Mars; returned 16,000 imagesLost after software error made it unable to recharge its batteriesReached Mars orbit; lost after computer malfunctionLost contact 3 days before it was to go into Mars orbitOrbited Mars for a decade, sending back enormous amounts of dataLaunch vehicle failedLanded on Mars; sent back enormous amounts of data before transmissions endedNever entered Mars orbitDisintegrated before entering Mars orbit due to mathematical errorLander crashed on MarsCrashed with Mars Polar LanderEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataLander lost; orbiter still sending images Landed on Mars; got stuck in sand, ended transmissions in 2010Landed on Mars; still sending back dataEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataLanded on Mars; completed primary mission before transmissions endedLanded on Mars; still exploringReached Earth orbit before disintegratingEntered Mars orbit; still sending back dataEntered Mars orbit; still sending back data
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Shown in order of launch dates

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