Though some failed even to reach their targets and though all were short-lived, the Soviet series of "Mars" missions was the first program to achieve a successful landing on the Red Planet.
In 1971, Mars 2 and 3 were sent to the red planet. They both consisted of an orbiter and a lander which would separate upon reaching the planet. Mars 2 and 3 arrived at Mars shortly before Mariner 9 from the United States. This put them in the middle of the global dust storm.
Because of the combined weight of the orbiters and landers, Mars 2 and 3 were not equipped with enough fuel for the attached spacecraft to orbit the planet until the storm subsided. The Russians were forced to proceed with the planned landing.
Mars 2 was unable to land. On its way down, the braking rockets malfuctioned and it crashed into the surface. Mars 3 separated and successfully landed on the surface, accomplishing for a man-made object the first touch down on Mars. It began transmitting information after the apparently successful landing. But after twenty seconds, the television scan malfunctioned. Scientists speculate that the parachute, still attached to the spacecraft, may have dragged the probe across the surface due to the violent winds of the dust storm. The orbiters, fortunately, had better luck. They both entered Mars orbit and were both able to continue transmitting information until 1972.
Four more spacecraft were launched in 1973. Mars 4 and 5 were orbiters and Mars 6 and 7 would drop landers onto the surface. Mars 4 experienced an engine failure that caused it to miss the planet and enter into a solar orbit. It did, however, pass within 2,200 kilometers, returning a few pictures. Mars 5 entered orbit in 1974 and returned pictures and data for more than 10 days, by far the most successful of the Soviet missions to date.
Mars 6 returned information for about 150 seconds during its descent, but failed just prior to touchdown. Mars 7 just missed the planet entirely and flew off into space.
Mission to Mars. An educational site created for the ThinkQuest contest.