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The best (and worst) Mars landings of all time

Successful Curiosity

NASA

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is an ambitious little machine. Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, launched toward the Red Planet in late November 2011, landed inside Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012, and soon began hunting for clues about the area's past potential to support microbial life.

The landing was far from easy, however. The 1-ton rover was lowered to the surface on cables by a rocket-powered sky crane, a maneuver that had never been attempted before on another planet. Everything worked perfectly, and NASA plans to use the same basic technique with its Perseverance rover, which is slated to touch down in 2021.

So long, Schiaparelli

ESA/ATG medialab

The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli lander, part of the ExoMars mission to Mars, launched to the Red Planet on March 14, 2016.

Schiaparelli unexpectedly went silent less than a minute before landing on Mars, but it did manage to successfully transmit plenty of data before losing contact. ESA found that the lander's thrusters did not fire as long as expected, causing Schiaparelli to fall to the Martian surface from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometers. The probe likely crashed into Mars at a speed in excess of 300 km/h.

Upcoming Mars landings

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An artist's concept of China's first Mars rover mission, Tianwen-1, at the Red Planet.

(Image credit: CCTV/China National Space Administration)
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An artist's concept of China's first Mars rover mission, Tianwen-1, at the Red Planet.

(Image credit: CCTV/China National Space Administration)
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An artist's illustration of China's first Mars rover Tianwen-1 on the Red Planet. The mission launches on July 23, 2020.

(Image credit: CNSA)
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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC)
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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, shown here in an artist's concept, will become the agency's two newest explorers on Mars when they arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. Both were named by students as part of an essay contest.

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, shown here in an artist's concept, will become the agency's two newest explorers on Mars when they arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. Both were named by students as part of an essay contest. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The story of landing on Mars is not complete. 

In 2020, no less than three missions are launching to Mars, two of them with plans to land. While the United Arab Emirates' Hope is an orbiter, China has launched the Tianwen-1 Mars rover, lander (and yes, an orbiter) as NASA prepares to launch a massive new rover called Perseverance to the Red Planet. 

China's Tianwen-1 Mars rover is a solar-powered car designed to last about 90 Martian days. 

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is similar in design to the Curiosity rover. It is powered by a plutonium source and should last at least two years.

In 2022, the European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos agency will launch the ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin. That rover, originally scheduled to launch in 2020, was delayed due to technical issues.

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