Probes to Mars

Here is a list of probes we have sent to Mars, as of 2007. They are listed in chronological order. For each, I give the name, country, year, mission, and whether successful.

Name Country Year Mission Success/Failure
Mars 1 Soviet Union 1962 flyby failed
Mariner 3 United States 1964 flyby failed
Mariner 4 United States 1964 flyby successful
Zond 2 Soviet Union 1964 flyby failed
Mariner 6 United States 1969 flyby successful
Mariner 7 United States 1969 orbiter and lander successful
Mars 2 Soviet Union 1971 orbiter and lander successful
Mars 3 Soviet Union 1971 orbiter and lander successful
Mariner 9 United States 1971 orbiter successful
Mars 4 Soviet Union 1973 orbiter failed
Mars 5 Soviet Union 1973 orbiter successful
Mars 6 Soviet Union 1973 orbiter and lander successful
Mars 7 Soviet Union 1973 orbiter and lander failed
Viking 1 United States 1975 orbiter and lander successful
Viking 2 United States 1975 orbiter and lander successful
Phobos 1 Soviet Union 1989 Phobos lander failed
Phobos 2 Soviet Union 1989 Phobos lander failed
Mars Observer United States 1992 orbiter failed
Mars '96 Russia 1996 lander failed
Mars Polar Lander United States 1997 lander failed
Mars Global Surveyor United States 1997 orbiter successful
Pathfinder United States 1997 rover successful
Mars Climate Observer United States 1999 orbiter failed
Mars Odyssey United States 2001 orbiter successful
Mars Express European Space Agency (ESA) 2003 orbiter and lander orbiter - successful

lander - failed

Spirit United States 2004 rover successful
Opportunity United States 2004 rover successful
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter United States 2006 orbiter successful
Phoenix United States 2008 lander successful
Curiosity United States 2012 rover successful

This does not include missions canceled before launch. As you can see, we've sent far more probes to Mars than any other world in our solar system, including our own Moon. For comparison, we've only sent four probes to Saturn.

Name Country Year Mission Success/Failure
Pioneer 11 United States 1979 flyby successful
Voyager 1 United States 1980 (launched 1977) flyby successful
Voyager 2 United States 1981 (launched 1977) flyby successful
Cassini United States 2004 orbiter and Titan lander successful

Of course, Mars is a lot closer than Saturn but that's not the total explanation in the huge difference in number of probes sent. There's far more public interest in Mars than any other world. Mars is the most Earth-like world we know about. This is why Mars figured so prominently in early science fiction, such as by H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc. Certainly, we have the technology for a manned flight to Mars, and the only reason we haven't done it is politics. Congress just isn't going to fund such a mission anytime soon. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, not burdened with having the justify expenditures to constituents, fully intended to send humans to Mars, and if the Cold War hadn't ended, would probably have sent humans to Mars by 2020. Also, if you look at the above list, you notice that the United States did not attempt to send any probes to Mars between 1975 and 1992. They had the same "been there, done that" mentality that ended the Apollo program.

One other thing you notice from looking at the above list is the large number of failed missions to Mars. The real reason for this is simply that if you try to send that many probes to Mars, some of them are going to be failures. Unfortunately, the UFO believers have tried to attach some sinister significance to this. They suggest that aliens don't want us interfering with their projects on Mars, as if the so-called "Face on Mars" was shooting down these probes, or that UFO's were, intentionally or unintentionally, interfering with our communications. Probably an even more popular theory within the UFO community is the claim that the probes to Mars that have been publicly classified as failures were not in fact failures but in fact found proof of UFO's, but there is a vast government conspiracy to hush this up, so the government just declares that they lost contact with the probes so they don't have to release the data. Well, this nonsense doesn't deserve a response except to say that this is nothing more than the latest in a long tradition of fiction associating Mars with aliens. Examples include Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clark, "My Favorite Martian", "Mars Attacks", and Marvin the Martian on Bugs Bunny. What this does show you is the great interest that the public continues to have in Mars, and I think the public would support funding a manned flight to Mars at this time.