Marsnik 1 (1960)
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History of Mars exploration

Marsnik 1 (1960)
The Soviet Union’s first planetary probe, Marsnik I, did not make it to its namesake planet, attaining an altitude of only about 75 miles before falling back to Earth.  (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars 1 (1962)
Like the Marsnik before it, Mars 1 proved an unsuccessful Soviet probe. When the spacecraft was about 62 million miles from Earth, communication was lost and it was left to drift off into space. (Alexander Chernov / NSSDC / NASA)
Mariner 4 (1964)
This $83-million Mariner 4, designed by NASA, was the second U.S. probe that attempted to reach Mars and the first to successfully return images of the planet, taken during a flyby. (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars from flyby
One of the first photos of the Martian surface, captured by Mariner 4 in 1964. (JPL / NASA)
Zond 2 (1964)
Another Soviet attempt, Zond 2 launched successfully but solar panel failures left the probe with diminished power, and communications later failed. Broken but not deterred, Zond 2 eventually made it to within about 900 miles of Mars.  (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars 1969A
Another ill-fated Soviet endeavor, Mars 1969A fell victim to a malfunctioning rotor bearing and exploded only minutes after launch. (NSSDC / NASA)
Mariner 6 (1969)
NASA’s Mariner 6 made it to Mars and returned 75 images of the planet from a close orbit. (NSSDC / NASA)
Mariners 8 and 9 (1971)
The U.S.'s Mariner 8 was intended to follow on the heels of Mariners 6 and 7, but a launch failure left it to sink in the Atlantic Ocean. Its twin, Mariner 9, returned 7,329 photos of the entire surface of Mars and is still in orbit. (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars 2 (1971)
The Soviet Union’s Mars 2 was the first probe to deploy a lander to the surface of the Red Planet, although it crashed after its parachute failed to deploy. The probe was still able to send back orbital pictures and atmospheric information. (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars 5 (1973)
The Soviet Union’s Mars 5 made 22 orbits around Mars then lost pressurization.  (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars 6 (1973)
The Soviets’ Mars 6 deployed a lander whose parachute successfully opened, but communication was lost when it hit the ground at an estimated 135 miles per hour. (NSSDC / NASA)
Viking 1 (1975)
The United States’ Viking 1 sent the first lander, above, to successfully reach the surface of Mars and return images back. (NSSDC / NASA)
On the ground
The first panoramic image ever taken on the surface of Mars, shot July 20, 1976, by the Viking 1 lander. (NSSDC / NASA)
A rocky expanse
A color photo taken by the Viking 1 lander. (NSSDC / NASA)
Mars Global Surveyor (1996)
This high-resolution image of the north pole of Mars was shot by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, the first successful probe launched since Viking 21 years earlier. The white areas are residual water ice, the discovery of which led scientists to believe life may once have been possible on Mars. (NASA / JPL / Malin Space Science Systems)
Mars Pathfinder (1996)
The Pathfinder mission placed a stationary lander and robotic rover, named Sojourner, on the surface of Mars. In addition to taking high-resolution images, Pathfinder recorded atmospheric and geologic information. (NSSDC / NASA / Mars Pathfinder Project)
Sojourner
The view from the Sojourner robot as it explores the surface of Mars. (NSSDC / NASA / Mars Pathfinder Project)
Martian sunset
Pathfinder captures the sunset on Mars. (NSSDC / NASA / Mars Pathfinder Project)
Mars Polar Lander (1999)
As its name suggests, the Mars Polar Lander was supposed to record information from the southern pole of Mars. But for unknown reasons, contact with the lander was lost just prior to atmospheric entry and it was swallowed up by the Red Planet. (NASA / JPL / Caltech)
2001 Mars Odyssey
The U.S. probe Mars Odyssey holds the title of longest serving Mars spacecraft, having been in operation now for more than 11 years.  (NASA / JPL / Caltech)
Noctis Vista
This enhanced image captured by the 2001 Mars Odyssey shows terrain that was shaped by ice and water. (NASA / JPL / Caltech / ASU )
Mars Express/Beagle 2 (2003)
The European Space Agency sent an orbiter and lander to Mars in 2003. Here, scientists work on the lander, named Beagle 2.  (All Rights Reserved Beagle 2 / http://beagle2.open.ac.uk)
Spirit (2003)
NASA’s Spirit rover, shown in mock-up, roamed the surface of Mars for six years then got stuck in a pile of sand in 2009 and ceased communication in 2010. (NSSDC / NASA)
Opportunity (2003)
NASA launched Opportunity, shown in mock-up, one month after its twin rover, Spirit. Although it was only expected to operate for 90 days, Opportunity far exceeded this estimate and is in fact still in operation on the martian surface. (NSSDC / NASA)
Endurance crater
A true-color photo taken by Opportunity of the Endurance crater it explored on Mars. (NASA / JPL)
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005)
NASA sent the Reconnaissance Orbiter to gather information on the martian climate and to identify complex terrain and water-related geography with its high resolution camera. (NASA / JPL / Caltech)
Dust storm
Detail of an image captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a Martian dust storm. (NASA / JPL / Caltech / MSSS)
Phoenix Mars Lander (2007)
Phoenix, shown in mock-up, was the first of NASA’s Scout program landers, sent to study the history of water on Mars and search for complex organic molecules in the soil.  (NASA / JPL- / Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University)
Fobos-Grunt (2011)
Russia attempted to get back in the Mars game with Fobos-Grunt, but the probe failed to break free of the Earth’s orbit and fell into the Pacific Ocean in January 2012. (AFP / Getty Images)
Curiosity (2011)
Engineers test a design during the development of Curiosity, the latest and most technologically advanced of NASA’s Mars rovers, which is projected to land on the planet’s surface Sunday night. Launched in November, Curiosity will search for signs that Mars was once able to support life. (NASA / JPL / Caltech)
Curiosity (2011)
A NASA scientist tests the dexterity of Curiosity’s robotic arm. (NASA / JPL / Caltech)
Side-by-side comparison
From left to right, models of NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Pathfinder’s Sojourner rover, and the new Curiosity rover. (NASA / JPL / Caltech)
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