10 Historic Mars Rovers and Landers Sent By NASA

Curiosity Rover, Phoenix Lander and Opportunity Rover
Curiosity Rover, Phoenix Lander, and Opportunity Rover

From NASA’s first Mars Lander, Viking 1 (in 1975) to the 2020 NASA’s Perseverance Rover, in this article, we explain the most historic Mars Rovers and Landers sent by NASA. We talk about their missions and findings, how much they cost, and more.

1. Viking 1 Lander

The Viking 1 Lander was NASA’s first lander to successfully land on Mars. The lander was part of NASA’s Viking Project whose mission was to study the Red Planet and search for signs of life.

Viking 1 Lander
Viking 1 Lander

The lander was accompanied by a Mars orbiter. They were both launched in Viking 1 spacecraft aboard a Titan III-Centaur launch vehicle on August 20, 1975, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

After an 11-month journey, the Viking 1 Lander landed on Mars on June 20, at Chryse Planitia — a smooth circular plain in the northern equatorial region of Mars.

The lander was Powered by radioisotope generators. It had various engineering equipment including two facsimile cameras; three analyses for metabolism, growth, or photosynthesis; a gas chromatograph-mass and x-ray fluorescence spectrometers; pressure, temperature, and wind velocity sensors; and a three-axis seismometer.

What did the Viking 1 Lander find on Mars?

Using its robotic arm and a special biological laboratory, the lander performed the first Martian soil sample. Although no signs of life were found, both the lander and the orbiter helped to better characterize Mars as a cold planet with volcanic soil, a thin, dry carbon dioxide atmosphere, and striking evidence for ancient river beds and vast flooding.

2. Viking 2 Lander

The Viking 2 Lander was NASA’s second lander to successfully land on Mars. It was also part of NASA’s Viking Project. It landed on Mars in September 1976 — immediately after Viking 1.

Viking 2Lander

Like its predecessor, the Viking 2 lander was accompanied by an orbiter. Both the lander and the orbiter were launched in Viking 2 spacecraft aboard a Titan III-Centaur launch vehicle on September 9, 1975, 20 days after Viking 1 was launched.

Unlike Viking 1, The Viking 2 lander landed at Utopia Planitia — a large plain within the largest recognized impact basin on Mars.

Powered by radioisotope generators, The Viking 2 lander operated on the Mars surface for 43 months before it was turned off on April 12, 1980, when its batteries failed.

What did the Viking 2 Lander find on Mars?

The lander had the same set of instruments the Viking 1 had. It had the same objectives of investigating Mars and searching for signs of life. It too didn’t find traces of life but it did find all the elements essential to life on Earth: carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus.

How much did the Viking Project cost?

NASA estimates the cost for the entire Viking Project was about $7.1 billion when adjusted for inflation.

3. Sojourner Rover

Sojourner was the first wheeled robotic Mars rover to land and operate on the red planet. Although the Soviet Union sent rovers to Mars in the 1970s, it was not able to operate them due to some malfunctions.

Sojourner Rover
Sojourner Rover
Sojourner Rover

Sojourner was part of the Mars Pathfinder mission whose objective was to demonstrate a low-cost method for delivering a set of science instruments to the Red Planet

The Pathfinder spacecraft which consisted of the Sojourner rover inside a lander was launched on December 4, 1996, aboard a Delta II rocket. It landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, in Ares Vallis — an outflow channel within the Chryse Planitia region.

Powered by solar panels and a non-rechargeable lithium-thionyl chloride battery, Sojourner was able to operate day and night. It spent 83 days of a planned seven-day mission exploring the Martian terrain, snapping photographs, and taking chemical, atmospheric and other measurements.

Various technologies, such as airbag-mediated touchdown and automated obstacle avoidance, used in both Sojourner and its lander were later exploited by Spirit and Opportunity rovers which we will talk about later in the video.

Sojourner was featured in a number of pop culture references including in the 2000 film Red Planet that showed the crash-landed Martian crew salvaging its parts to make a basic radio.

How much did Sojourner Rover cost?

The estimated costs for Sojourner and its lander were estimated to be USD $25 million and USD 150 million respectively.

4. Mars Polar Lander

The Mars Polar Lander, a.k.a the Mars Surveyor ’98 Lander, was a robotic spacecraft lander designed to study the soil and climate of Planum Australe, the southern polar plain on Mars.

Mars Polar Lander
Mars Polar Lander
Mars Polar Lander

The lander was launched aboard a Delta II launch vehicle on January 3, 1999, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After an 11-month cruise, the spacecraft successfully entered the Martian atmosphere but unfortunately, NASA lost contact with it, and so the lander was declared lost. An investigation later revealed that the lander might have crashed into the Martian surface after a false landing signal which caused the main engines to shut off while the spacecraft was still hovering.

Designed to dig for water ice on Mars with a robotic arm, the Mars Polar Lander would have been the first-ever spacecraft to land on Mars’ polar region. It carried two probes called Deep Space 2 that were designed to impact the Martian surface and test new technologies.

How much did the Mars Polar Lander mission cost?

The total cost of the Mars Polar Lander mission was US$165 million. US$110 million went to Spacecraft development while the launch and mission operations were estimated to cost US$45 and US$10 million respectively.

5. Spirit Rover

Spirit was one of two robotic Mars Exploration Rovers launched in 2003 to explore Mars and search for signs of past life.

Spirit and Opportunity Rovers
Spirit and Opportunity Rovers
Spirit and Opportunity Rovers

It was also known as Mars Exploration Rover — A.

Spirit was launched aboard Delta 7925 launch vehicle on June 10, 2003, from Cape Canaveral. It successfully landed on Mars on January 4, 2004, within the impact crater Gusev.

The Spirit’s Mission duration on Mars was supposed to be 92 Earth days. But the rover far outlasted her planned 90-day mission and functioned effectively over twenty times longer. The extended time was attributed to the Mars wind which cleaned the solar panels which in turn resulted in more energy from the panels. The rover also was able to travel 7.73 km (or 4.8 mi) of its planned 600 m (or 0.4 mi).

In May 2009, the rover got stuck at an angle that prevented the recharging of its batteries. After months of maneuvering, NASA was unable to free it and eventually decided to end its mission on May 25, 2011.

What did the Spirit Rover find on Mars?

Among her countless great discoveries, Spirit found evidence that Mars was once much wetter than it is today and helped scientists better understand the Martian wind.

6. Opportunity Rover

Opportunity was the second robotic rover launched in 2003 after Spirit. It had the same mission as Spirit; to explore Mars and search for signs of past life.

Spirit and Opportunity Rovers Rover
Spirit and Opportunity Rovers Rover
Opportunity Rover

It was also known as Mars Exploration Rover — B and nicknamed “Oppy”

Launched on July 7, 2003, Oppy landed on Mars on January 25, 2004, in Meridiani Planum three weeks after its twin Spirit.

Opportunity was able to stay operational for 14 years and 46 days after landing — 57 times its designed lifespan. It was able to stay that long by maintaining its power and key systems through continual recharging of its batteries using solar power, and hibernating during events such as dust storms to save power.

What did the Opportunity Rover find on Mars?

The rover’s mission is considered one of NASA’s most successful missions. It made great discoveries including strong evidence that long ago some areas of Mars were wet for a long period and that conditions could have been suitable for supporting microbial life.

The rover was able to survive some moderate dust storms. But in June 2018 a severe Mars-wide dust storm covered its location and caused Opportunity to lose communication with Earth.

Engineers at NASA made a number of attempts to revive it but they couldn’t succeed. Sadly, on February 13, 2019, NASA officially decided to end its mission.

How much did the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers Cost?

Adjusted for inflation, both Opportunity and Spirit missions had an estimated life-cycle cost of USD 1.2 billion.

7. Phoenix Lander

Phoenix was a robotic spacecraft sent to the surface of Mars to assess its local habitability and research the history of water.

Phoenix Lander
Phoenix Lander
Phoenix Lander

The lander was launched on Aug 04, 2007, and landed on Mars on May 25, 2008.

Equipped with a robotic arm, Phoenix was able to dig Martian surface up to half a meter, collect samples and analyze them using its onboard instruments.

What did the Phoenix Landerfind find on Mars?

Phoenix was able to verify the existence of water-ice in the Martian surface and found traces of perchlorate — a chemical compound that is a possible energy source for microbes and also it might be a valuable resource for human explorers in the future.

The lander completed all its planned science experiments and observations. In November 2008 — six months after landing, Phoenix lost communications with Earth after its solar panels ceased operating in the dark Martian winter. On May 12, 2010, the lander was declared to be dead.

How much did Phoenix Lander cost?

The Phoenix mission cost was $386 million, including the cost of launch.

8. Curiosity Rover

Curiosity is a car-sized Mars rover designed to explore the Gale crater on Mars in order to find out if the crater has ever offered favorable environmental conditions for microbial life, and perform planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration.

Curiosity Rover
Curiosity Rover
Curiosity Rover

Curiosity was launched on November 26, 2011, from Cape Canaveral. Using a series of complicated landing maneuvers never before attempted, the rover landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, at Aeolis Palus, a plain between the northern wall of Gale crater and the northern foothills of Aeolis Mons.

The Curiosity rover is the most technologically advanced rover ever built before. It is equipped with 17 cameras and a robotic arm with a suite of specialized laboratory-like tools and instruments.

Like the successful Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers, Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

The rover’s mission duration was supposed to be two years. But in December 2012, its mission was extended indefinitely.

What did the Curiosity Rover find on Mars?

The Curiosity Rover is still operational. It has made a number of discoveries including Evidence of Persistent Liquid Water in the Past, chemistry to support living microbes, Organic molecules which are the building blocks of life, and the presence of methane which is produced by living organisms or by chemical reactions between rock and water.

How much did Curiosity Rover cost?

Adjusted for inflation the estimated life-cycle cost for curiosity is USD 3.2 billion.

9. InSight Lander

InSight is NASA’s robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of the planet Mars. Its goals are to understand formation and evaluation on Mars and to determine the level of tectonic activity on Mars.

InSight Lander
InSight Lander
InSight Lander

The word InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport.

The lander was manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and most of its scientific instruments were built by European agencies.

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lander was launched on 5 May 2018 aboard an Atlas V-401 rocket and landed at Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018.

What did the InSight Lander find on Mars?

While there’s more science to come from InSight, so far, NASA has learned the following through InSight; Faint Rumblings on Mars Are the Norm, the strong winds of Mars hide quakes, and despite hundreds of marsquakes detected, surprisingly there were no surface waves like those which occur on Earth during an earthquake. As of January 2021, InSight was approved for extended operations through December 2022

On 7 December 2018, InSight recorded the sounds of Martian winds and sent them back to Earth. This was the first time the sound of Mars wind was heard.

How much did InSight Lander cost?

According to NASA, InSight’s cost was 828.8 million USD.

10. Perseverance Rover

Perseverance is an SUV-sized Mars robotic rover designed to look for signs of past microbial life, collect rock and soil samples, and prepare for future human exploration.

Perseverance Rover
Perseverance Rover
Perseverance Rover

The rover was manufactured by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was launched on 30 July 2020 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover successfully landed on Mars on 18 February 2021 a the Jezero crater — a crater which is thought to have once been flooded with water.

The design of Perseverance evolved from its predecessor, the Curiosity rover. It carries seven new scientific instruments and has a total of 19 cameras and two microphones.

Aboard the rover is the mini-helicopter named Ingenuity, an experimental aircraft that will attempt the first powered flight on another planet. Equipped with a camera, this solar-powered helicopter drone will fly from 3 to 5 m (or 10 to 16 ft) above the ground to search for ideal driving routes for the rover.

Perseverance includes a robotic arm with a complex rock-coring and sampling mechanism to store geologic samples from the Martian surface in collection tubes or at designated locations on the Martian surface. In 2031 these samples will be returned back to Earth with the help of the Sample Retrieval Lander in the Mars Sample Return mission.

How much did Perseverance Rover cost?

With an estimated cost of USD 2.9 billion, Perseverance is NASA’s sixth-most expensive robotic planetary mission when Adjusted for inflation.

All Mars Rovers and Landers From NASA
All Mars Rovers and Landers From NASA

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