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Missions to Mars
August 13, 2012

Current Missions | Future Missions | PAST MISSIONS

Mariner 4 image of MarsMariner 3 and 4
Mariner 3 Launch: Nov. 5, 1964
Mariner 4 Launch: Nov. 28, 1964

Mariner 3 and 4 were identical spacecraft designed to carry out the first flybys of Mars. Mariner 3 was launched on November 5, 1964, but the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed to open properly, and Mariner 3 did not get to Mars. Three weeks later, on November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 was launched successfully on an eight-month voyage to the red planet.
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global view of Mars from Mariner 7Mariner 6 and 7
Mariner 6 Launch: Feb. 24, 1969
Mariner 7 Launch: Mar. 27, 1969

In 1969, Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 completed the first dual mission to Mars, flying by over the equator and south polar regions and analyzing the Martian atmosphere and surface with remote sensors, as well as recording and relaying hundreds of pictures.
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Mariner 9 view of Olympus MonsMariner 8 and 9
Mariner 8 Launch: May 8, 1971
Mariner 9 Launch: May 30, 1971; Arrival: Nov. 13, 1971

Mariner 8 and 9 were the third and final pair of Mars missions in NASA's Mariner series of the 1960s and early 1970s. Unfortunately, Mariner 8 failed during launch on May 8, 1971. Mariner 9 was launched successfully on May 30, 1971, and became the first artificial satellite of Mars when it arrived and went into orbit.
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Viking 2 lander and its view on MarsViking
Viking 1 Launch: Aug. 20, 1975; Arrival: Jun. 19, 1976
Viking 2 Launch: Sept. 9, 1975; Arrival: Aug. 7, 1976

NASA's Viking Project found a place in history when it became the first mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of another planet. Two identical spacecraft, each consisting of a lander and an orbiter, were built. Each orbiter-lander pair flew together and entered Mars orbit; the landers then separated and descended to the planet's surface.
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artist's concept of Mars ObserverMars Observer
Launch: Sept. 25, 1992

After a 17-year gap since its last mission to the red planet, the United States launched Mars Observer on September 25, 1992. The spacecraft was based on a commercial Earth-orbiting communications satellite that had been converted into an orbiter for Mars. The payload of science instruments was designed to study the geology, geophysics and climate of Mars.

The mission ended with disappointment on August 22, 1993, when contact was lost with the spacecraft shortly before it was to enter orbit around Mars. Science instruments from Mars Observer are being reflown on two other orbiters, Mars Global Surveyor and 2001 Mars Odyssey.

Mars Pathfinder lander on MarsMars Pathfinder
Launch: Dec. 4, 1996

Mars Pathfinder, consisting of a lander and the Sojourner rover, returned an unprecedented amount of data as they explored an ancient flood plain in Mars' northern hemisphere known as Ares Vallis.
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artist's concept of Mars Climate OrbiterMars Climate Orbiter
Launch: Dec. 11, 1998

Mars Climate Orbiter was designed to function as an interplanetary weather satellite and a communications relay for Mars Polar Lander. The orbiter carried two science instruments: a copy of an atmospheric sounder on the Mars Observer spacecraft lost in 1993, and a new, lightweight color imager combining wide- and medium-angle cameras.

Mars Climate Orbiter was lost on arrival September 23, 1999. Engineers concluded that the spacecraft entered the planet's atmosphere too low and probably burned up.

artist's concept of Mars Polar LanderMars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2
Launch: Jan. 3, 1999

Mars Polar Lander was an ambitious mission to set a spacecraft down on the frigid terrain near the edge of Mars' south polar cap and dig for water ice with a robotic arm. Piggybacking on the lander were two small probes called Deep Space 2 designed to impact the Martian surface to test new technologies.

Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 were lost at arrival December 3, 1999.
+ Archived site: Mars Polar Lander
+ Archived site: Deep Space 2

artist's concept of Mars Global SurveyorMars Global Surveyor
Launch: Nov. 7, 1996
Arrival: Sept. 12, 1997

Mars Global Surveyor operated longer at Mars than any other spacecraft in history, and for more than four times as long as the prime mission originally planned. The spacecraft returned detailed information that has overhauled understanding about Mars.
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artist's concept of PhoenixPhoenix
Launch: Aug. 4, 2007
Arrival: May 25, 2008

The Phoenix Mars Lander successfully landed on the north polar region of Mars. Its mission is to dig up and analyze icy soil. The mission is the first chosen for NASA's Scout program, an initiative for smaller, lower-cost, competed spacecraft. Named for the resilient mythological bird, Phoenix uses a lander that was intended for use by 2001's Mars Surveyor lander prior to its cancellation. It also carries a complex suite of instruments that are improved variations of those that flew on the lost Mars Polar Lander.
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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator