Mars is a hard place to reach. While there have been many notable success stories in getting probes to the Red Planet, the historical record is full of bad news.
Counting all Soviet/Russian, U.S., European, and Japanese attempts, more than half of Mars missions have failed, either because of some botched rocket launch on Earth or a systems malfunction en route to or at the planet. The success rate for actually landing on the Martian surface is even worse, roughly 30 percent.
Set to touch down on Aug. 5, NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, will be the largest man-made object ever placed on another planet, requiring a never-before-attempted landing sequence. With its carefully orchestrated parachutes, rockets, hovering UFO-like platform, and sky crane, the descent has to go off in a pitch perfect order to avoid the rover becoming a fiery crater on the Martian surface.
With this in mind, NASA officials have been nervous about their $2.5 billion flagship probe’s chances of successfully reaching the ground, alternating between anxious and hopeful tenors when talking about the mission in recent weeks. The agency at least can take comfort in the fact that three out of four landers and every rover built in the good-old U.S. has made it down safely thus far.
Though we sincerely hope that Curiosity doesn’t join them, here we take a look at the challenging history of Mars mission failures and the vast robotic graveyard of probes that didn’t make it.