|Exploring the Red Planet|
|2003 Rovers||2003 Mars Express||2005 Orbiter||2007 Scout||2009 Science Lab|
|2009 Telecomm Orbiter||2013 Sample Return||Pathfinder||Global Surveyor||2001 Odyssey|
|Beagle 2||Japan Nozomi||Polar/Climate||Phobos||Mariners|
|Vikings||All Probes||Future Plans||Human Trips||Mars the Planet|
Earth's Exploration of Mars is Underway
With the landing of America's exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in 2004, for the first time since America's twin Viking landers touched down on the Red Planet in 1976, and Pathfinder deployed its robot rover Sojourner in 1997, the United States had two working spacecraft on the surface of Mars.
NASA now has completed successfully five out of its six attempts to land on the Red Planet. The Mars Polar Lander was lost in 1999. The next landing attempts will be Phoenix in 2008 and Mars Science Laboratory in 2010.
In addition, NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Europe's Mars Express, are satellites working successfully in orbit above the planet. NASA's Mars Global Surveyor worked ten years in orbit, but was lost in 2006.
In the December 2003-January 2004 time period, five spacecraft from Earth arrived in the vicinity of Mars. Three of the five succeeded.
The odds of all succeeding had been slim. After all, two-thirds of the three dozen spacecraft sent from Earth to Mars since 1960 had failed.
The Soviet Union had been the first nation to attempt to reach Mars. In 1960, the Soviets launched two Mars probes, but neither reached its destination.
At the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004...
» Japan's Nozomi failed to enter Mars orbit and flew on by in December 2003.
» Europe's Mars Express carried Great Britain's Beagle 2 lander to Mars and released it on December 19, 2003. However, Beagle 2 has not been heard from since it was supposed to land on December 25.
» Europe's Mars Express satellite successfully flew into orbit over Mars on December 25, 2003, and began sending back photos and science data.
» America's exploration rover Spirit landed on target on Mars on January 4, 2004, and began sending back photos and science data.
» America's exploration rover Opportunity landed on target on Mars on January 25, 2004, and began sending back photos and science data. On March 2, 2004, NASA announced the rovers had confirmed liquid water once flowed on Mars.
» NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter entered orbit around Mars in March 2006 and started sending back data. The science spacecraft carries six instruments in search of water and future sample-return landing sites on the planet's surface.
» NASA will launch a robot explorer named Phoenix in August 2007 to land in May 2008 and scout the high northern latitudes of Mars.
NASA plans to launch in December 2009 its Mars Science Laboratory, a long-range, long-duration roving science laboratory. The rover will be twice as long and three times as heavy as the famous Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, that arrived on Mars in 2004.
» NASA will extend the Internet to the Red Planet with the launch of the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in 2009. The MTO spacecraft will arrive in a high orbit above Mars in 2010 and then be used to relay Internet-style data packets to Earth from a variety of Mars landers and orbiters for as much as ten years.
» What's next? NASA is working on high-priority plans to send humans to explore the Red Planet. American astronauts would return to the Moon around 2015 with human flights to Mars to follow in the next decade.