After all the failures, the thought of succeeding must hae been a pipe dream, but come November 27, 1971 there came a glimmer of nerdy hope. The Mars 2 was an orbiter/lander that was destined for the martin surface. On this date, the lander became the first manmade object to touch down on Mars, a fairly huge accomplishment. But “touch down” is a bit of a misnomer as it was more of a “slammed down and broke instantly” type of landing. It’s successor, just five days later, had an actual soft landing but transmission cut out only 15 seconds later. Despite what sounds like unsuccessful missions, there was still data that was transferred back to earth with information on the gravity and magnetic fields of Mars, along with a handful of pictures. This was enough info keep the ball rolling for the Soviets.
Lets go back in time a bit and take a look at USA’s attempts at a Martian connection in 1965. The Mariner Program was set up to begin attempts at reaching Mars. Mariner 3 was a pretty big failure but Mariner 4, which was launched very soon afterwards proved to be the golden ticket, providing us with the first close up images of the surface (image on left). Mariner 4 sent back so much useful information that NASA had to go back and rethink some of their lander concepts they had brewing. Mariner 9 became the next real success story after entering orbit, photographing Phobos, the larger of Mars’ moons and also got more insight on the geography of the surface.
Failures galore, as we know, were what was needed to finally get successful missions going. These missions began to give us confidence to get the soft landing needed to get the next level of information.