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In pics: Missions to Mars through the years

As NASA lands a new exploratory probe on Mars, TheJournal.ie takes a look back over previous Mars missions…

The Viking lander, launched on 20 August 1975 and arrived at Mars on 19 June 1976
The Viking lander, launched on 20 August 1975 and arrived at Mars on 19 June 1976
Image: AP Photo

THE FIRST DETAILED images of the surface of Mars were captured by the Mariner 4 in 1965.

NASA’s Mariner 4 was the first man-made object to successfully travel past the planet. The grainy black and white images transmitted back to Earth show heavily cratered areas on the planet.

Exploring the Red Planet has met numerous technical difficulties and setbacks over the years. Aside from a number of Mars mission launch failures, spacecraft have also lost contact with Earth before the expected expiration of their mission, such as NASA’s Mars Observer. Communication with its controllers ended abruptly shortly before it was scheduled to enter Martian orbit in August 1993.

The first man-made objects to successfully land on Mars were the Soviet Mars 2 and 3 unmanned probes launched in 1971.

Later successful landings on the Martian surface saw soil samples taken for analysis and the discovery of ice water under the surface, as well as the transmission of much more detailed and dramatic images of the planet. Studies of soil samples taken by the Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars in 2004, suggested that the planet could have had an environment hospitable to life in the past.

In pics: Missions to Mars through the years
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  • The Red Planet

    The first image - taken by Mariner 4 - of the Martian surface clearly showing craters on Mars. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    Two spacecraft engineers sit among three generations of Mars rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California, January 2012. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  • The Red Planet

    NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity photographed its own shadow in the late afternoon light looking eastwards towards the Endeavour Crater in May 2012. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State University)
  • The Red Planet

    1973: Viking's aeroshell which protected the lander during its entry into the Martian atmosphere. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    A Viking 1 image from the Martian surface, 1976, which suggests the brilliant colours of the Red Planet. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    Viking 1 launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the evening of 20 August, 1975. It went into orbit around Mars in the middle of 1976 and holds the record for longest Mars surface mission (of over 6 years). (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    A technician checks soil sampler equipment on the Viking 1 Lander in 1971 ahead of its mission to Mars. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    A photo from the Viking 2 lander of the Martian surface showing a thin coating of water ice on rocks and soil in May 1979. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    The Martian surface, photographed by the Viking 1 lander on 20 July, 1976. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    A FIDO rover is tested on Earth in an experiment simulating conditions on Mars in 1999. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    2000: Gully landforms on the Martian surface are believed to have been caused by geologically-recent liquid water movement. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    Image captured in May 2000 by the Mars Global Surveyor shows examples of Martian gullies proposed to have been formed by liquid water. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    A 360-degree panorama of the Pathfinder landing site on Mars in 1997. (Image: NASA)
  • The Red Planet

    A Hubble photograph of Mars in 1999 as Mars was 87 million km from Earth. (Image: NASA)

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