The day the USSR beat out the US and put the first rover on Mars, but it all went wrong

The space race was about more than trying to be the first world power to send satellites into Earth orbit or explore the Moon. It was a real space exploration contest became the linchpin of the technological and cultural rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As many of you already know, the USSR became the first country to successfully launch an artificial satellite. It happened on October 4, 1957 with Sputnik 1, but only three years later, with the first technological advances of the time, the Soviets had already set their sights on Mars and were beginning to send their first missions.

Between 1960 and 1962, the USSR launched five Molniya shipborne probes to Mars, as evidenced by this NASA compilation. All of them failed, and some couldn’t even reach Earth orbit. At first, these attempts were made in great secrecy, so NASA Administrator James WebbHe told Congress that believed that the USSR was trying to send missions to the red planet.

The United States is watching Mars and accelerating

The American response was not long in coming. The country added Mars to its list of priorities and in 1964 launched the Mariner 3 probe aboard an Atlas LV-3 Agena-D rocket. Although the launch was successful, a problem occurred in the separation phase and it was unable to complete its objective.

However, just 23 days later, the US space agency tried again. This time with Mariner 4. The mission was successful. It reached Mars orbit and captured the first 21 photographs of the planet, explains the American agency.

The USSR was falling behind. On November 28, he launched the Zone 2 probe, also with a Molniya, but once again they failed, this time due to a communication problem. About five years later, the United States launched the Sailor 6 successfully and sent to Earth another 75 images of our neighboring planet.

While the United States had a good series of launches, until a problem with the Mariner 8 in 1971, the USSR lost that game. How to take advantage of it? Taking images from Mars orbit was no longer enough, you had to land on the planet somehow.

Thus, the Soviets updated their program to reach the United States, but of course, before landing on a planet, it must be studied from its orbit so as not to carry out a blind mission. With failed attempts in between, the USSR managed to reach Mars orbit and later send to reach the planet’s surface.

Mars3 Vsm Lander

Concept Mars 3 at the Memorial Museum of Astronautics in Russia

A probe called Mars 2 was the first to touch the surface of the red planet, but in an uncontrolled way. Failed landing, finished plane destroyed. In previous missions, they had concluded that landing on Mars was much more difficult than they imagined, mainly due to its weak atmosphere and dust storms. Even so, one had to try, the Soviets were convinced that their technology could succeed.

On May 28, 1971, they launched Mars 3. A Proton-K rocket took off with an orbiter and a lander with a small 4.5 kg rover on board. After a long journey, on December 2, 1971, the descent module faces the terrifying minutes of landing in the Martian atmosphere and, using aerodynamic braking, parachutes and retro rockets, he managed to land smoothly.

At that time, a historic event was taking place. For the first time in history, a probe has successfully landed on Mars. A probe equipped with two cameras with 360 degree vision to capture the Martian landscape, a spectrometer to study the atmospheric composition, temperature, pressure and wind sensors, a mechanical shovel to search for signs of life on earth and the rover which would move the surface connected by a 15 meter cable to its mothership.

In addition to delivering a hammer blow in the space race, the USSR saw an ocean of scientific possibilities is that no other country in the world could collect data from this neighboring planet because they they just didn’t get there. However, this victory only lasted a few seconds. Once the Mars 3 lander touched down, it started emitting, but after 20 seconds it was silent.

Capura March 3

The only image sent by Mars 3 on Mars

The loss of connection was total and since then, the elements of Mars 3 on Mars have not given any news. It is not known to date whether the failure came from the lander or the orbiter’s communication system. Some experts believe that a strong the storm could have damaged communications equipment.

This 360 degree camera could not shine, as we can see in the capture published by planetary society. According to VG Perminov, author of the book ‘The difficult road to Mars‘, the image arrived incomplete and was “a gray background with no detail”. The Mars 3 orbiter, although it suffered some damage, remained in Mars orbit capturing and sending nearly 60 images back to Earth.

The USSR kept trying. They had been very close. The descent system they had developed worked. What else could go wrong? After all, there aren’t always storms on Mars. Other Martian missions have been sent. While the orbiters generally performed well, the landers were unable to touch Martian soil again.

Over the next few years, NASA also sent Mariner probes, but into orbit around the red planet. And it wasn’t until 1975 that the United States was finally able to land on Mars. con let viking sound on a mission that lasted until 1980. The American module was designed to capture high-resolution images of the Martian surface, analyze the structure and composition of the atmosphere, and search for evidence of life.

Pictures | Face Mars | The planetary society | Nasa

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