You might have noticed the discrepancy; my title says 50 years but the race to Mars started nine years earlier with the Soviet Mars 1 in 1962. NASA’s Mariner 4 Mars flyby was the first spacecraft to reach and study Mars, and that was July 14, 1965 – 56 years ago.
Let’s look at Mars missions after the Mariner 9, Mars 2 & 3 successful Mars missions of 1971.
1973: Mars 4, 5, 6, and 7 (USSR). Mars 4 failed to achieve Mars orbit. Mars 5 achieved orbit and collected data for Mars 6 & 7. Mars 6 achieved orbit but its lander failed. Mars 7 missed Mars orbit.
1975: Viking 1 & 2 (USA). Both orbiters and landers were successful. The lander’s experiments results for evidence of life are still debated. The landers also transmitted data about weather and sent images.
1988: Phobos 1 & 2 (USSR). Phobos 1 was lost en route to Mars. Phobos 2 achieved Mars orbit but failed as it neared Phobos. Its lander did not reach Phobos.
1992: Mars Observer (USA). Communication lost as it neared Mars.
1996: Mars Global Surveyor (USA). Achieved orbit and continues to map Mars surface. Mars 96 (USSR). The fourth stage ignited early, sending the mission into the ocean, along with 270 grams of plutonium-238. Mars Pathfinder (USA). A stationary lander and a rover (Sojourner) successfully proved the concept to low-cost landings. They collected and transmitted data for a year.
1998: Nozomi (Japan). The planned orbiter and probe lost communication. Mars Climate Orbiter/Mars Surveyor ’98 Orbiter (USA). Part of a combined series of missions. It failed due to the failure of its next phase.
1999: Mars Polar Lander/Mars Surveyor ’98 Lander. A communication loss/mishap caused mission failure.
2001: 2001 Mars Odyssey (USA). Successful and long-lived orbiter and lander/rover.
2003: Mars Express (ESA). Successful orbiter but the Beagle 2 lander was lost. Spirit (MER-A) & Opportunity (MER-B) (USA). Both Mars Exploration Rovers were successful, transmitting weather and soil conditions.
2005: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (USA). Successful and continuing to map Mars.
2007: Phoenix (USA). Successful study of Martian artic soils.
2011: Phobos-Grunt (Russia)/Yinghuo-1 (China) Failed in Earth orbit. Mars Science Laboratory (USA). Successful landing of rover Curiosity. Looking for evidence of past habitable environments.
2013: Mars Orbiter Mission (India). Successful mission to map Mars and measure radiation. Maven (USA). Successful orbiter studying Martian atmosphere.
2016: ExoMars (ESA). Successful orbiter but lander lost. Serves as a communications relay.
2018: In Sight (USA). Successful stationary lander to study Mars interior.
2020: Mars 2020 Perseverance (USA). Successful rover looking for habitable conditions, signs of past microbial life, and collecting samples for a future sample return mission
What’s in the Sky? November 24; late evening; east: The waning gibbous Moon is in Cancer, 3 degrees from M44, the Beehive cluster. Use binoculars and you might see both even with the bright Moon’s glare.