The odds do not look good. Only 23 out of 53 attempted missions involving Mars were ever successful.
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Make no mistake; manned Mars missions are coming. And, it won’t be in 50 or a 100 years’ time that we realize the goal of becoming a multi planetary species, it will be in our lifetimes, depending on how old you are, obviously. The evolution and continued development of private spaceflight companies such as Space X and Blue Origin, and their efficiency and ability to do the job for a lower price, has meant that governments no longer need to invest billions into their own, costly and often archaic, space programs to achieve their galactic goals. That being said, a successful mission to Mars is by no means a foregone conclusion. Since the 1960’s, 53 ambitious Mars missions have been developed and yet only 23 of those were successful. Of those 23 successful missions, 18 were launched by the United States. Others have collaborated and helped, but the US wants the glory on the Mars front.
Where did the race start?
Obviously we all understand the space race and the Cold War between the US and the USSR which culminated in the Apollo Lunar missions winning the race to the moon. But Mars was on the minds of the scientists way back then as well, as proven by the efforts of Russian scientists to get a lander onto Mars back in 1962. Unfortunately, Sputnik 24 didn’t ever leave low Earth orbit due to a malfunction, but it certainly showed their intent. In the following half a century, NASA landed 7 landers safely on the surface of Mars whilst the rest of the world combined managed none. The Russians did try of course, and attempted the first flyby, orbiter, lander, and rover unsuccessfully before NASA showed them how to do it.
The first object made by man to land on the surface of Mars was the Soviet Mars 2 lander. Unfortunately it came in too fast and crash landed. Mars 3 was looking a little more promising until it landed in a Martian dust storm that killed it less than 15 seconds after landing. They didn’t give and kept sending landers to the surface, well apart from Mars 7 which overshot the planet by about 800 miles. And then NASA came along with their Vikings and ruined the Soviet party. Since Viking 1 and 2 deployed successfully, every spacecraft to land on the red planet’s surface has been US made.
Well the Russians did try again with Mars 96 (No, they hadn’t tried every number between 3 and 96) but it was even less successful than the previous attempts. They sent a vessel that included an orbiter, two stations destined for the surface and two surface penetrators to Mars in 1996. It was thought to be one of the costliest and most ambitious projects in history. A rocket problem meant that the spacecraft did 3 laps of the Earth and crash-landed near Chile. So yes, the US did dominate although it wasn’t without one failure; The Mars Climate Orbiter was royally fucked when someone got the conversions from imperial to metric screwed up and the craft didn’t fare so well when it disintegrated.
Why go to Mars?
I actually can’t believe that some people still find it necessary to ask this question. Firstly, the human population is expanding at thefastest rate in history and very soon, we won’t have enough food and clean water to keep everyone alive. Unless we want wide scale famine and draught, and I’m talking about fucking billions perishing within 100 years, then we need to seek other locations for resources. Colonizing Mars will be the first step towards creating permanent settlement away from Earth. The resources are there, the technology is here, so let’s get it done. Secondly, a special object hit Earth a long time ago, wiped out the dinosaurs and changed the entire planet for millions of years. If such an object hit Earth today, there would be fuck-all we could do about it. If we had colonies on Mars however, the species could go on and every single thing that every human has ever done won’t be forgotten in a fraction of a second.
Can we do it?
Yes, astronaut Mark Watney survived on the red planet eating potatoes made out of his own shit. Whilst most in-the-know would agree that Martian was a fairly scientifically accurate movie, they also stress that we shouldn’t get too carried away when it comes to ideas about retiring to Mars anytime soon. Elon Musk is busy posturing about how he can beat NASA to landing people on the surface of Mars in just a few years, but he isn’t the only one. Aside from spaceflight becoming economically viable in the past few years, the technology necessary has grown and developed at a relentless pace. In 1969 we didn’t even have the internet or Coke Zero and we landed on the Moon. Seriously; no fucking Coke Zero!