Six decades of missions to Mars

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PARIS (AFP) – The six-decade space race to explore Mars has led to some 40 missions, at least half of which have been successful, and still the Red Planet inspires new adventures.

A look back at some key Mars missions over the last 60 years:

– 1960-1964: Soviet failures –

At first, the Soviet Union leads the way, sending probes from 1960, just three years after it launched its first artificial satellite Sputnik I. But it clocks up a string of failures, including Marsnik 1 and 2, the first two probes launched in October 1960, which do not reach the Earth’s orbit. Zond 2 launched in late 1964 is the first probe to get close to Mars, although it does not manage to carry out an observation of the planet.

– 1965: Mariner 4 flies over –

On July 15, 1965, the American vessel Mariner 4 makes history when it flies over the Red Planet. It sends back about 20 photographs revealing a desert-like surface dotted with craters.

Mariner 6 and 7 in 1969 also collect dozens of images.

– 1971: first satellite –

Mariner 9 in November 1971 becomes the first satellite around Mars, providing a detailed photographic map showing traces of volcanism and river erosion.

In December the Soviet Mars 3 is the first spaceship to make a soft-landing on the planet but it stops transmitting some 20 seconds later.

– 1976: Viking 1 and 2 complete missions –

The US is the first nation to make vessels function on Mars: in July 1976 Viking 1 is the first spaceship to successful land on the planet and complete its mission.

It is followed in September by Viking 2.

Their combined missions allow them to collect more than 50,000 photographs and show there was no sign of life on Mars.

– 1997: Data drive –

Exploration to Mars picks up again in the 1990s, but with mixed results: seven probes are lost.

But US space agency NASA enjoys two successes, both in 1997.

In July, Mars Pathfinder places the robotic rover Sojourner on the planet.

Then in September Mars Global Surveyor, launched a year earlier, enters orbit and goes on to study the entire surface, atmosphere, and interior of the planet.

Both Pathfinder and Surveyor collect detailed data about the planet and are able to detect the presence of minerals.

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