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Missions to Mars

Mars has historically been unfriendly to Earth’s attempts to visit it. More missions have been attempted to Mars than to any other place in the Solar System except the Moon, and about half of the attempts have failed. Some of these failures occurred because Mars was the first planet Earth attempted to explore, and the early exploration attempts taught us many lessons that have made subsequent missions more successful. But many failures have occurred relatively recently, proving again and again that space exploration is very, very difficult. But since 1996, Mars exploration has undergone a Renaissance, with data from four orbiters and four landed missions developing a revolutionary new view of Mars as an Earth-like world with a complex geologic history.

Active missions: MAVEN - Mars Orbiter Mission - Curiosity - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity - Mars Exploration Rover Spirit - Mars Express - 2001 Mars Odyssey

Future missions: ExoMars - InSight

Past missions: Phobos-Grunt - Yinghuo-1 - Phoenix - Mars Exploration Rover Spirit - Mars Polar Lander - Nozomi - Mars Climate Orbiter - Mars Pathfinder & Sojourner - Mars 96 - Mars Global Surveyor - Mars Observer - Phobos 2 - Phobos 1 - Viking program - Mars 4, 5, 6, & 7 - Mars 2 & 3 - Mariner 9 - Kosmos 419 - Mariner 8 - Mars 1969a &b - Mariner 6 & 7 - Zond 2 - Mariner 4 - Mariner 3- Mars 1 - Korabl 11 & 13 - Korabl 4 & 5

Active Missions

MAVEN
MAVEN

Future Mars orbiter (NASA)

Launch: November 18, 2014

Arrival: September 2014

MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, will provide first-of-its-kind measurements and address key questions about Mars climate and habitability and improve understanding of dynamic processes in the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere.
Links: All Planetary.org Coverage - NSSDC - Wikipedia - NASA - Facebook - Twitter

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Mangalyaan
Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)

Future Mars orbiter (ISRO)

Launch: November 5, 2013

Arrival: September 2014

Sometimes referred to by the nickname "Mangalyaan," the Mars Orbiter Mission is India's first interplanetary spacecraft. It is primarily a technology demonstration mission that carries a small, 15-kilogram payload of 5 science instruments. It is scheduled to enter orbit at Mars in September 2014. The orbit will be highly elliptical, from 387 to 80,000 kilometers.
Links: All Planetary.org Coverage - ISRO website - Facebook page - Wikipedia - nasaspaceflight.com - unmannedspaceflight.com

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Curiosity sampling the Martian surface
Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) (MSL)

Roving Mars (NASA)

Launch: 26 Nov 2011

Mars arrival: 6 Aug 2012

Curiosity is the next generation of rover, building on the successes of Spirit and Opportunity. It is twice as long and three times the weight of the Mars Exploration Rovers. It landed in Gale crater.
Links: All Planetary.org Coverage - NSSDC - Wikipedia - JPL - UnmannedSpaceflight

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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

In orbit at Mars (NASA)

Launch: August 12, 2005

Mars arrival: March 10, 2006

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is searching for evidence of past water on Mars, using the most powerful camera and spectrometer ever sent to Mars. Its cameras are also helping in the search for landing sites for future Mars rovers and landers.
Links: All Planetary.org Coverage - NSSDC - Wikipedia - JPL - HiRISE images - MARCI weather reports

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Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

Currently roving across Mars (NASA)

Launch: July 7, 2003

Landing: January 24, 2004

Opportunity landed in Meridiani Planum at 354.4742°E, 1.9483°S, immediately finding the hematite mineral that had been seen from space by Mars Global Surveyor. After roving more than 33 kilometers, Opportunity arrived at the 22-kilometer-diameter crater Endeavour, a target it is currently exploring.
Links: Planetary Society MER Updates - NSSDC - Wikipedia - JPL - UnmannedSpaceflight

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Mars Express
Mars Express and Beagle 2

Currently in orbit at Mars; failed lander (ESA)

Launch: June 2, 2003

Mars arrival: December 26, 2003

Five days before its arrival Mars Express successfully pushed off the tiny, 30-kilogram Beagle 2 geochemical lander. Although it had functioned successfully throughout cruise, the lander was never heard from again. Beagle 2 may have landed too hard, the victim of an unexpectedly thin atmosphere at the time of its arrival.

Mars Express successfully entered orbit on December 26 and immediately began returning stunning, 3D, color images. Mars Express has detected surprising concentrations of methane and evidence for recent volcanism on Mars. Its radar sounder, MARSIS, was deployed late in the mission due to spacecraft safety concerns, but is functioning well.
Links: NSSDC - Wikipedia - ESA - HRSC images

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2001 Mars Odyssey
2001 Mars Odyssey

Currently in orbit at Mars (NASA)

Launch: April 7, 2001

Mars arrival: October 24, 2001

2001 Mars Odyssey is capturing images of the Martian surface at resolutions between those of Viking and Mars Global Surveyor, and is making both daytime and nighttime observations of the surface in thermal infrared wavelengths at resolutions higher than ever before. It has detected massive deposits of water lying below Mars’ surface in near-polar regions and widespread deposits of olivine across the planet, indicating a dry past for Mars. The MARIE instrument measured the radiation environment at Mars to determine its potential impact on human explorers, and found them to be 2 to 3 times higher than expected. 2001 Mars Odyssey also serves as a communications relay for Opportunity.
Links: All Planetary.org CoverageNSSDC - Wikipedia - JPL - THEMIS images

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Future Missions

ExoMars 2018 rover
ExoMars

Future orbiter, lander, and rover (ESA)

Launch: 2016 and 2018

Links: ESA - Wikipedia

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Insight
InSight

Future lander (NASA)

Launch: between March 8, 2016 and March 27, 2016

Arrival: September 2016

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a Mars lander full of geophysical instruments. Using a seismometer, heat flow probe, and precision tracking it seeks to explore the deep interior of Mars and improve our understanding of the formation of terrestrial planets.

Links: NASA - Wikipedia - Facebook - Twitter

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Past Missions

Phobos-Soil (Phobos-Grunt)

Failed sample return mission to Phobos (Russia)

Launch: January 15, 2012

Phobos-Grunt's modified Fregat upper stage of failed to ignite after launch, and the spacecraft crashed into the southern Pacific ocean.

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Yinghuo-1

Future Mars orbiter (China)

Launch: January 15, 2012, piggybacked on Phobos-Grunt

Yinghuo-1 crashed with Phobos-Grunt.

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Phoenix

Successful lander (NASA)

Launch: August 4, 2007

Mars arrival: May 25, 2008

Last communication: November 2, 2008

Phoenix landed near Mars' north pole to study the water ice found close to the surface there. Its arm dug trenches into the soil and delivered samples to sophisticated chemical analysis instruments.

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Mars Exploration Rover Spirit

Successful Mars rover (NASA)

Launch: June 10, 2003

Landing: January 3, 2004

Contact lost: March 22, 2010

Spirit landed on Mars within Gusev crater at 14.5718°S, 175.4785° E. The initial panorama showed a rock-strewn site similar to Pathfinder’s. Spirit had to rove several kilometers across Mars and into its extended mission before it found evidence for past water. It was hobbled by one stuck wheel for many years and finally became stuck in fluffy sand.

You can read a detailed history of Spirit's mission in our MER Updates section.

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Mars Polar Lander

Failed Mars lander & 2 penetrators (NASA)

Launch: January 3, 1999

Attempted landing: December 3, 1999

When Mars Polar Lander arrived at Mars, it turned its antenna away from Earth to prepare for its entry into the Martian atmosphere. This was the last time controllers heard from the spacecraft. A review board determined the most likely cause for the loss of mission was a faulty software system that may have triggered the retrorockets to turn off early, causing the lander to crash. The spacecraft had carried The Planetary Society’s Mars Microphone to Mars, the first privately funded hardware provided to a planetary mission. Two microprobes, Amundsen and Scott, were piggy-backed on the lander and expected to separate just before the lander entered the atmosphere. However, no signal was ever received from the probes.

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Nozomi ???

also known as Planet-B

Failed Mars orbiter (ISAS)

Launch: July 3, 1998

Mars flyby: December 14, 2003

Originally scheduled to arrive at Mars in October 1999, Nozomi failed to gain enough speed during an Earth flyby on December 21, 1998. The spacecraft also used much more fuel than predicted. A looping trajectory was developed, including two more Earth flybys, to return Nozomi to Mars for orbit insertion in December 2003. But on April 21, 2002, a powerful solar flare damaged Nozomi’s computer. As a result, Nozomi’s hydrazine fuel froze during the long interplanetary trek and mission controllers were unable to place it into orbit. Nozomi flew by Mars at a distance of 1,000 kilometers (600 miles), and is now in a 2-year orbit around the Sun.

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Mars Climate Orbiter

Failed Mars orbiter (NASA)

Launch: December 11, 1998

Mars Climate Orbiter was lost on September 23, 1999, when a mathematical conversion error placed the spacecraft too close to Mars at the time of orbital insertion. Mars Climate Orbiter carried a few re-flown instruments from Mars Observer, marking the second failures for those experiments.

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Mars Pathfinder & Sojourner

Successful Mars lander & rover (NASA)

Launch: December 4, 1996

Mars arrival: July 4, 1997

Mars Pathfinder’s successful airbag-assisted landing was the first successful mission to the Martian surface since Viking, 20 years earlier. The landing site was near the mouth of Ares Vallis, at 19.33°N, 33.55°W. On July 6, 1997, the six-wheeled rover, named Sojourner in a Planetary Society-run contest, rolled off a ramp and onto the Martian surface. The lander, now named the Sagan Memorial Station for The Planetary Society's co-founder Carl Sagan, returned many images as well as weather data. The original mission was scheduled to last for 30 days, but the lander and Sojourner continued to transmit data until September 27, 1997 when contact with the lander was lost.

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Mars 96

Failed Mars orbiter, lander, & 2 penetrators (Russian Space Agency)

Launch: November 16, 1996

The rocket carrying the spacecraft launched successfully, but its fourth stage ignited prematurely and sent the spacecraft crashing into the ocean. Several of the science instruments originally built for Mars 96 were later flown on ESA’s Mars Express.

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Mars Global Surveyor

Highly successful orbiter (NASA)

Launch: November 7, 1996

Mars arrival: September 12, 1997

Mars Global Surveyor was the first completely successful Mars orbiter since Viking 1 shut down in 1980. The start of Mars Global Surveyor’s science mission was delayed due to a problem with one of its solar panels that caused its aerobraking period (which reduced its initial orbit from an ellipse to a low-altitude, near circular one) to last for a year and a half. Since science operations began in March 1999, Mars Global Surveyor provided scientists with a wealth of images and data, including the highest-resolution images yet achieved from orbit. Many of the Mars Observer instruments were re-flown on Mars Global Surveyor. Its mission was extended three times. Contact was lost on November 5, 2006.

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Mars Observer

Failed Mars orbiter (NASA)

Launch: September 25, 1992

Mars Observer was designed to study the Red Planet from orbit. On August 21, 1993, only three days away from Mars, all contact with the spacecraft was suddenly lost. Scientists were unable to determine the cause of the failure. It is possible that Mars Observer followed its onboard program and is in orbit around Mars. However, the results of failure investigations suggest that a fuel line ruptured during tank pressurization, which would have caused the spacecraft to spin uncontrollably and fail to enter orbit. Most of the science instruments that were originally built for Mars Observer were eventually “re-flown” on subsequent orbiters.

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Phobos 2

Mostly failed Mars orbiter & 2 Phobos landers

Launch: July 12, 1988

Mars arrival: January 29, 1989

Phobos 2 was designed to orbit Mars and land a "hopper" and a lander on the surface of Phobos. The spacecraft successfully went into orbit and began sending back preliminary data. Then, on March 27, 1989, just before the spacecraft was to move within 50 meters of Phobos and deploy the two landers, the spacecraft's onboard computer malfunctioned and the mission was lost.

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Phobos 1

Failed Mars orbiter (USSR)

Launch: July 7, 1988

Phobos 1 was designed to study the Sun and interplanetary space while on its way to Mars. Once in orbit around Mars, it was going to study the Red Planet and take close-up images of its moon Phobos. However, on September 2, 1988, only two months in to the flight, controllers on the ground accidentally uploaded software containing a command that deactivated the spacecraft's attitude control thrusters. The spacecraft then turned its solar panels away from the Sun and was unable to recharge its batteries. As a result, the mission was lost.

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Viking 2

Successful orbiter & lander (NASA)

Launch: September 9, 1975

Mars arrival: August 7, 1976

Mars landing: September 3, 1976

The Viking 2 lander touched down in the Utopia Planitia, on the opposite side of the planet and almost 1,500 kilometers closer to the north pole than Viking 1 at 47.27°N, 225.99°W. One of the lander's legs settled down on a rock, so the entire lander was tilted by about 8 degrees. The lander took extensive atmospheric readings and conducted experiments on soil samples that it had collected with a scoop. The Viking 2 lander quit operating on April 11, 1980, when its batteries failed, but it lasted long enough to see multiple winters come to its landing site and to see it cover with frost. The Viking 2 orbiter was shut down on July 25, 1978, after 706 orbits. The Viking 1 and 2 landers returned 1,400 images from the Martian surface. The orbiters took 50,000 images, producing a global atlas that is still used today.

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Viking 1

Successful orbiter & lander (NASA)

Launch: August 20, 1975

Mars arrival: June 19, 1976

Mars landing: July 20, 1976

When Viking 1 entered orbit at Mars, it began taking pictures of the surface in search of a safe landing site for the lander. Mission planners were hoping for a July 4th landing, but the original site turned out to be too rocky. Another site was chosen and the first successful Mars landing took place on July 20, 1976, the seventh anniversary of the first Moon landing. Viking 1 landed in Chryse Planitia at 22.48°N, 49.97°W. The lander took extensive weather readings and conducted experiments on soil samples collected with a scoop. The orbiter was powered down on August 17, 1980 after 1,400 orbits. The lander survived on the surface until November 13, 1982.

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Mars 4, 5, 6, and 7

Under pressure from the developing Viking mission, the USSR attempted one last time to beat the USA to a successful soft landing on Mars in 1973. Because of an unfavorable launch window, however, orbiters and landers were launched separately. All four spacecraft were hurried to completion and launched to Mars with microchips known to have serious problems. The problems mostly doomed the missions, but Mars 4, 5, and 6 all successfully performed radio occultation experiments of Mars’s atmosphere, proving the existence of an ionosphere at Mars and resulting in the measurement of a 6.7-millibar surface atmospheric pressure.

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Mars 4

Failed Mars orbiter attempt (successful as a flyby) (USSR)

Launch: July 21, 1973

Mars flyby: February 10, 1974

The microchip problem caused the failure of the Mars 4 orbiter to fire its orbit insertion rockets. It flew by Mars at a distance of 2,200 kilometers (1,370 miles), taking one set of images and collecting limited data. It continued to function after the flyby, returning data from solar orbit.

Mars 5

Initially successful Mars orbiter, failed after 22 days

Launch: July 25, 1973

Mars arrival: February 12, 1974

Mars 5 entered orbit successfully, but after completing 22 orbits and returning 60 images the spacecraft malfunctioned and the mission ended.

Mars 6

Slightly successful descent craft and flyby

Launch: August 5, 1973

Mars arrival: March 12, 1974

The Mars 6 descent craft separated successfully from the main spacecraft and descended through the atmosphere, transmitting 224 seconds of data before abruptly cutting off (either when the retrorockets fired or when it slammed into the ground). Although this was the first data of its kind (from within the Martian atmosphere), most of it was garbled and unusable due to the microchip problem. Mars 6 landed at 23.90°S, 19.42°W.

Mars 7

Failed descent attempt

Launch: August 9, 1973

The Mars 7 lander separated too early, and it missed the planet by 1,300 kilometers (800 miles).

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Mars 2

Successful Mars orbiter and failed descent craft (USSR)

Launch: May 19, 1971

Mars arrival: November 27, 1971

Mars 3

Somewhat successful Mars orbiter and very briefly successful descent craft (USSR)

Launch: May 28, 1971

Mars arrival: December 2, 1971

The identical Mars 2 and Mars 3 spacecraft each released descent craft 4.5 hours prior to their arrivals at Mars. But the landers had the misfortune of arriving at Mars during one of the greatest dust storms in recorded history. The Mars 2 probe descended at a steeper angle and faster rate than intended and crashed near 45°S, 313°W. However, the Mars 3 probe used aerobraking, parachutes, and retrorockets to descend successfully to a soft landing near 45°S, 158°W. It operated for 20 seconds on the surface before mysteriously failing, possibly because it was blown over by the wind. Before failing, Mars 3 may have deployed the first tiny rover onto the surface of Mars. The Mars 2 orbiter was successfully placed in an 18-hour orbit. The spacecraft completed 362 orbits. The Mars 3 orbiter, short on fuel, was unable to obtain its intended 18-hour orbit. Instead, the spacecraft ended up in an almost 13-day orbit around the planet and completed only 20 orbits. Both spacecraft were shut down on August 22, 1972. Together, Mars 2 & 3 returned 60 images of Mars, recorded temperatures ranging from -110 to 13 degrees Celsius (-166 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit), produced surface relief maps and studied the Martian gravity and magnetic fields.

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Mariner 9

Successful Mars orbiter (NASA)

Launch: May 30, 1971

Mars arrival: November 14, 1971

Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to go into orbit around another planet. However, excitement for its arrival was subdued by a dark cloud -- literally. A Martian dust storm, which had started in late September 1971, had grown to cover the entire planet. When Mariner 9 arrived in November, the only surface features visible were the summit of Olympus Mons and the three volcanoes of Tharsis Ridge. Mission scientists had to wait about a month and a half until the dust settled before they could begin the science portion of the mission. When the spacecraft ran out of fuel almost a year later (on October 27, 1972), Mariner 9 had taken a total of 7,329 images of Mars, studied the atmospheric and surface composition of the planet, the density and pressure of its atmosphere as well as the planet's gravity and topography. The spacecraft also provided scientists with the first close-up views of Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars.

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Kosmos 419

Failed Mars orbiter attempt (USSR)

Launch: May 10, 1971

Kosmos 419 reached Earth orbit, but its fourth stage rocket, which would have sent the spacecraft on its way to Mars, failed to ignite. The spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere and was destroyed.

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Mariner 8

Failed Mars flyby attempt (NASA)

Launch: May 8, 1971

Mariner 8, a twin to the successful Mariner 9, failed to reach Earth orbit.

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Mars 1969B

Failed Mars orbiter attempt (USSR)

Launch: April 2, 1969

The first stage of the rocket launching this mission to Mars failed almost immediately after liftoff.

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Mars 1969A

Failed Mars orbiter attempt (USSR)

Launch: March 27, 1969

The third stage of the rocket launching this mission to Mars failed, caught fire, and exploded, causing the remaining pieces to crash land back on Earth.

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Mariner 6

Successful Mars flyby (NASA)

Launch: February 24, 1969

Mars flyby: July 31, 1969

Mariner 7

Successful Mars flyby (NASA)

Launch: March 27, 1969

Mars flyby: August 5, 1969

Mariner 6 and 7 were identical spacecraft arriving at Mars five days apart. Mariner 6 flew by Mars at an altitude of 3,431 kilometers (2,131 miles) and Mariner 7 at 3,430 kilometers (2,131 miles). Mariner 6 returned 75 images, and Mariner 7 126 images. Data from the twin spacecraft helped establish the mass, radius, and shape of Mars and revealed that its southern polar ice cap was composed of carbon dioxide. The spacecraft are now in solar orbits.

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Zond 2

Failed Mars flyby and descent craft attempt (USSR)

Launch: November 30, 1964

Controllers lost contact with Zond 2 after a mid-course correction maneuver while the spacecraft was on its way to Mars. The spacecraft is now in a solar orbit.

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Mariner 4

Successful Mars flyby (NASA)

Launch: November 28, 1964

Mars flyby: July 14, 1965

Mariner 4 was the first spacecraft to fly by Mars and obtain close-up pictures of the Red Planet, passing within 9,844 kilometers (6,117 miles) of Mars. It then took four days to transmit the data back to Earth. Mariner 4 imaged a large, ancient crater on Mars and confirmed the existence of a thin Martian atmosphere composed largely of carbon dioxide. Once past Mars, the spacecraft continued on its way, returning data until October 1965, when the orientation of its antenna made communication with Earth impossible. However, scientists were able to re-establish contact with Mariner 4 in late 1967 and continued to receive data until December 20, 1967, when the mission was terminated. The spacecraft is now in a solar orbit.

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Mariner 3

Failed Mars flyby attempt (NASA)

Launch: November 5, 1964

A shield that was designed to protect Mariner 3's instruments during launch failed to release once the spacecraft had reached Earth orbit. With its instruments covered and the extra weight of the shield dragging it down, the spacecraft was unable to obtain the necessary trajectory to send it on to Mars. The spacecraft is now in a solar orbit.

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Mars 1 (Sputnik 23)

Failed Mars flyby attempt (USSR)

Launch: November 1, 1962

Mars 1 launched successfully and began the trip to Mars, returning data on interplanetary space. However, controllers lost contact with Mars 1 on March 21, 1963, when the spacecraft was 107 million kilometers (66 million miles) from Earth when signal was lost. The spacecraft is now in a solar orbit.

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Korabl 11 (Sputnik 22)

Failed Mars flyby attempt (USSR)

Launch: October 24, 1962

Korabl 13 (Sputnik 24)

Failed Mars flyby attempt (USSR)

Launch: November 4, 1962

Korabl 11 broke apart after reaching Earth orbit. The debris reentered Earth's atmosphere and was tracked by the U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System in Alaska, who first thought it was a Soviet ICBM attack in response to the ongoing Cuban Missile Crisis. Korabl 13 broke apart in Earth orbit during a burn to transfer the probe to a Mars trajectory.

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Korabl 4 (Marsnik 1)

Failed Mars flyby attempt (USSR)

Launch: October 10, 1960

Korabl 5 (Marsnik 2)

Failed Mars flyby attempt (USSR)

Launch: October 14, 1960

Korabl 4 and 5 were the Soviet Union's first attempts at interplanetary probes. The third stage of both launch vehicles failed, and neither obtained Earth orbit.

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