How many Mars Rovers have there been and what is their current status?

2018-08-12T14:40:00+00:00February 24th, 2018|

In the past 50 years, mankind has attempted to send rovers to Mars on seven separate occasions. Of these Mars rovers, just two are still active and operational in 2018.

Read on to learn more about the different Mars rover missions, which have been successful and which failed, and what they have discovered.

 

Mars Rovers mission details

The seven Mars rovers missions of the past decades are:

  1. Mars 2
  2. Mars 3
  3. Sojourner
  4. Beagle 2
  5. Spirit
  6. Opportunity
  7. Curiosity

 

1. Mars 2

Mars 2

  • Country: USSR
  • Year sent: 1971
  • Status: Failure – Destroyed on landing

The first attempts to send rovers to Mars were by the Russians (USSR) with a series of unmanned space probes in the 1970’s.

The Mars 2 Prop-M Rover was the first man-made object to make it to Mars but the landing was a failure and it crashed into the planet and was destroyed.

 

2. Mars 3

mars 3

  • Country: USSR
  • Year sent: 1971
  • Status: Failure –  Stopped communicating 20 seconds after landing

Following the Mars 2 Rover, the Mars 3 Prop-M rover was sent in the same year. It managed to successfully land but stopped communicating just 20 seconds after landing having transmitted just one partial image.

(if you are interested, the Soviet’s Mars 1 mission was a successful planet fly-by and not a lander).

 

3. Sojourner

sojourner mars rover

  • Country: USA
  • Year sent: 1997
  • Status: Success – Active for 85 days in 1997

The first successful Mars Rover was then NASA’s Sojourner rover that was deployed from the Mars Pathfinder unmanned spacecraft.

Together, the Pathfinder lander and the Sojourner rover landed on Mars on 4 July 1997 and sent information back to Earth for 86 days until 27 September 1997 – a great success since it was only expected to communicate for 7 days. It is thought that battery failure is the cause of the eventual ceasing in communications.

The Sojourner rover was about the size of a microwave and recorded about 550 images, with the Pathfinder craft sending back 16,500 images and 2.3 billion bits of information about the surface of Mars.

You can interact with a 360 image of Mars’s surface from Pathfinder and Sojourner in this video from NASA:


Find out more about Sojourner and Pathfinder on NASA’s sites here:

 

4. Beagle 2

beagle 2 mars rover

  • Country: UK / Europe
  • Year sent: 2003
  • Status: Failure – contact lost on landing

The next to get in the picture with the British-made Beagle 2 rover in 2003. It was launched as part of the European Space Agency’s ongoing Mars Express.

The spacecraft was deployed from the Mars Express on 19 December 2003 and landed on the surface of Mars on 25 December. However, no communications were ever received from the rover and its fate was unknown for over 12 years.

It wasn’t until January 2015 when the Beagle 2 rover was spotted on the surface of Mars by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It could be seen in images and analysis suggested that that two of the four solar panels failed to deploy on landing and this blocked the communications antenna. It currently lies dormant on the surface of the planet.

Find out more about the Beagle rover on its official site here: http://beagle2.open.ac.uk/index.htm and about the ESA’s Mars Express mission here: http://exploration.esa.int/mars/

 

5. Spirit

mars rover spirit

  • Country: USA
  • Year sent: 2004
  • Status: Success – Was active for six years until 2010

NASA’s Spirit rover (official name Mars Exploration Rover – A or MER-A) was the fifth Mars Rover. It was sent together with its twin, the Opportunity Rover (see below).

It landed on Mars on 4 January 2004 and was only planned to last 92 days but was active for over six years until 22 March 2010.

In this period, it was mobile for over five years and covered a distance of 7.73 km (4.8 miles) but ts wheels got stuck in sand in 2009 and could move no longer.

However it continued to operate as a stationary platform and the last communication received from Spirit was on March 22, 2010.

Useful further information about the Spirit Rover can be found here:

 

6. Opportunity

Opportunity mars rover

  • Country: USA
  • Year sent: 2003
  • Status: Success – Still active

The Opportunity rover (Mars Exploration Rover – B or MER-B) landed on Mars three weeks after the Spirit Rover on the other side of the planet.

Opportunity landed on Mars on 25 January 2004 and was only planned to operate for 90 days with NASA not expecting the rover to survive through a Martian winter. However is still active today in 2018 and has spent more than 5000 days communicating from the Martian surface.

As of January 2018, Opportunity had covered over 45 kilometers (28 miles).

Further information about the Opportunity Mars rover:

 

7. Curiosity

Curiosity Mars

  • Country: USA
  • Year sent: 2011
  • Status: Success – Still active

The most recent Mars Rover is the Curiosity Rover from NASA.

Curiosity landed on Mars on 6 August 2012 and is still operational and communicating today in 2018. As of 11 February 2018, it has traveled over 18 km (11 miles).

Curiosity is much bigger than the earlier Mars rovers and carries the most advanced scientific equipment which is used to investigate previous microbial life on Mars.

Further information about the Curiosity Mars rover:

 

Mars Rover images

The best images come from the most recent mars rover – Curiosity.

Future Mars Rovers

The next planned Mars Rover is NASA’s Mars 2020 rover which – amongst other goals – will be helping to prepare for future human exploration of the planet.

You can read more about the mission here – https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/ – or see the video below:

 

Play the Mars Rover game!

Yep, there is a Mars Rover game that you can play! It was released by NASA in 2016 to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Curiosity rover.

Play it here:

 

Further information

If you’d like to learn more about Mars, see Amazing Facts about Planet Mars.

One Comment

  1. Steven brawdy October 7, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Kind of reminds me of planet that Luke Skywalker grew up on. Amazing what human curiousity is able to accomplish.

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