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Mariner 4 takes first pics

Despite years of exploration (1960 to 2003), even today, we are not sure whether there is life on Mars.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2004 15:21 IST
PTI

Despite years of exploration (1960 to 2003), even today, we are not sure whether there is life on Mars.

And, in course of our quest, we continue to devise new ways and means to find more about it. Therefore, exploration of Mars is one of the most talked-about topics in news.

Introduction: The first close-up pictures of Mars were taken in the 1960s, when a spacecraft flew past the Red Planet, showing a no-man's land.

Over the next 25 years, the United States and Russia spend billions trying to land a space probe on Mars. Only three were successful - NASA's Viking landers in 1976 and its Mars Pathfinder in 1997.

The search for water and life on Mars began in 2003, with Europe's first solo mission to Mars and the launch of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers.

Pictures of another world (1965)

The first close-up pictures of Mars are taken by the NASA spacecraft Mariner 4 as it flew by the planet. The 22 images - the first taken by a planetary spacecraft - show a barren wasteland of craters.

The same year, a Soviet Union spacecraft misses the launch window for the Red Planet but is sent into space anyway. It manages to fly past our Moon, taking close-up pictures.

First dual mission to Mars (1969)

America's Mariner 6 and 7 probes complete the first dual mission to Mars. They skirt the equatorial and south polar regions of the planet, taking more than 100 pictures and analysing the Martian atmosphere and surface.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union attempts to send two more probes to Mars but both are lost on take-off.

1971-72

NASA's Mariner 8 falls into the ocean off Puerto Rico shortly after launch in 1971.

Later in the year, Mariner 9 becomes the first spacecraft to orbit Mars. It sends back close-up pictures of giant volcanoes, canyons and ancient riverbeds.

The Soviet Union has its first Mars successes with Mars 2 and Mars 3. They fly around the planet compiling data on the harsh Martian atmosphere.

The Mars 3 spacecraft releases a descent module which crash lands on the Martian surface, carrying the Soviet Union insignia.

1973-74

Four more spacecraft head for Mars from the Soviet Union.

Mars 4 and 5 both attempt to orbit the planet but only Mars 5 succeeds.

Mars 6 attempts to land on Mars but crashes. Mars 7 also misses its target.

July and September 1976

NASA's Viking 1 and 2 landers touch down on the surface of Mars. Instruments on the spacecraft provide valuable information about the planet's atmosphere and surface.

Biological experiments discover strange chemical activity in the Martian soil but no clear evidence of life or any of the organic compounds found on Earth. The planet is pronounced sterile.

This is challenged two decades later when NASA claims to have found microbial fossils inside a Mars rock that fell to Earth.

1988

The Soviet Union makes two more attempts to send unmanned probes to Mars. Contact is lost with the first craft due to a software fault.

Phobos 2 gathers data on the Sun, Mars and the Martian moon Phobos after which it is named.

It takes images but a problem with an on-board computer results in an early end to the mission before the spacecraft can land a robotic probe on the moon.

1993

After a gap of 18 years, America goes back to the Red Planet.

Its Mars Observer spacecraft falls silent three days before going into orbit around the planet.

Communication is lost and the spacecraft is never heard from again.

1996

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a mission to map the Red Planet.

Mars Global Surveyor has gathered more than 120,000 images so far and has provided tantalising glimpses of water beneath the surface.

Meanwhile, Russia attempts to send another spacecraft, Mars 96, to the Red Planet. It ends in failure when the spacecraft crashes into the Pacific Ocean shortly after launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, in November.

September 1997

NASA'sNASA's Mars Pathfinder rover mission lands on the surface of Mars. It sends back 2.3 billion chunks of information, including more than 20,000 images, suggesting Mars was once warm and wet, rather like the Earth.

The mission is one of the most popular events in internet history, and is watched on the web by millions of people around the world.

September 1999

Another NASA spacecraft, Mars Climate Orbiter, is lost as it arrives at the Red Planet. A mix-up over units for a key spacecraft operation is blamed - one team used English units while the other used metric.

December 1999

The $165m Mars Polar Lander goes silent as it attempts to touch down near the south pole of the planet. The costly failure forces the agency to reassess its entire Mars exploration programme.

NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has transformed the way scientists see the Red Planet

April 2001

NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft is launched on a mission to determine the composition of the Martian surface, detect water and ice and study the radiation environment of Mars.

It carries out the first large-scale geological map of the planet, transforming our knowledge of what Mars is made of.

April 2001

NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft is launched on a mission to determine the composition of the Martian surface, detect water and ice and study the radiation environment of Mars.

It carries out the first large-scale geological map of the planet, transforming our knowledge of what Mars is made of.

June/July 2003

The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft is set for launch in June. It carries the Beagle 2 lander, the first British-built probe to explore another planet.

NASA's two identical Mars Exploration Rovers are also due to leave Earth. The $150m rovers, which run on six wheels, will explore the Martian surface.

December 2003/January 2004

Mars Express and the two Mars rovers are due to arrive at their destination.

The first Japanese Mars orbiter, Nozomi, will also reach Mars after a four-and-a-half-year voyage from Earth.

Coutesy: ESA