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Mars part 2

The age of the space probe

The Soviet Union was the first nation to attempt the robotic exploration of Mars, but they suffered numerous setbacks in eight attempts. At best, the Mars 3 probe managed to transmit from the surface for 90 seconds in 1971, the rest of the probes were lost enroute for various reasonsMariner 4 image of Mars. The American probe Mariner 4 was the first successful probe to Mars, achieving a flyby in 1965. Mariner 4 returned 22 images of the surface, revealing a world pockmarked by craters like our own moon and finally putting to rest any notion that that planet might harbour a civilisation of canal builders. The 1971 Mariner 9 probe expanded on the work of Mariner 4 when it became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Mars, imaging amongst other things the giant volcanoes of the red planet.

Viking 1 touched down on the western slopes of Chryse Planitia on July 20, 1976, the first successful landing on Mars. It was a spectacular success and followed soon after by Viking 2, which Viking Landingachieved touchdown on September 3, 1976 in the region of Utopia Planitia. Both probes returned stunning panoramic images of the surface. Though quipped with robotic arms designed to dig up samples of the Martian surface for analysis, neither probe returned any conclusive proof of life.

A new first in Martian exploration was achieved on July 4th 1997 with the landing of the Mars Pathfinder mission bearing with it the Sojourner Rover, a plucky little machine that trundled about the Martian surface, scrutinizing nearby rocks in what was then an incredible feat of engineering.Sojourner Rover The Sojourner rover was to be a trailblazer for the two probes presently at work on the Martian surface. Spirit (landed January 4th 2004 ) and Opportunity (landed January 24th 2004) have far exceed their expected working lifetimes and are continuing to return amazing images and science. At the same time a European probe called Mars Express is returning the most spectacular pictures of the planet ever captured from orbit. More probes are planned, including a sample return mission, and then the next chapter in the exploration of Mars can then begin, with the dispatch of the first humans to visit the red planet.

For now that is just a dream of the mission planners, but the possibility of life existing even now on Mars at a microbiological level is a great enticement to send human explorers, and who knows, they might yet also find evidence that Mars was once home to higher forms of life.

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See also

Books

Dying Planet by Robert Markley

Dying Planet by Robert Markley. A detailed and in-depth exploration of the planet Mars in both fact and fiction, and how the two have become intertwined.

Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton

Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton. Telling the history of attempts to map the surface of Mars. The book includes detail on fictional Mars.

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