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27 November 1971 - Soviet Mars 2 Crash Lands on Mars' surface

Try to get picture the atmosphere in the mission control room of the Soviet space program in November 1971.

Soviet mission control center

6 months earlier you've blasted a Proton-K rocket off to Mars.

Within 11 days, the US has done exactly the same.

With the Moon conquered, both nations are racing towards their next target, Mars.

Mars Orbit

Even though the Soviets had a head start, NASA's Mariner 9 becomes the first human-made object to orbit Mars.

Two weeks later, on 27 November 1971, the Mars 2 (consisting of an orbiter and lander) also arrived to Mars.

Late to that milestone, the Mars 2 mission had another, bigger objective, to put an unmanned rover on the surface of the red planet!


Mars 2 lander

The Mars 2 orbiter had very similar mission goals to the Mariner 9: study Mars, image its surface and act as a communication relay for the landers with Earth.

But when the probe arrived, a bad surprise awaited them: a large duststorm.

Unable to execute on part of the mission, the lander was immediately deployed.

Mars 2 Lander Descent

So on the 1,210 kg heavy Mars 2 lander started making it's way through the thick dust clouds to the surface.

The Mars 2 lander had a 4.5 kg heavy rover on board that would manoever with skis while staying connected to the lander via a 15 meter long cable.

Mars 2 rover

Having seen the power of video with the Moon landing, the Soviet had planned for an elaborate staging.

After landing, the lander would deploy the rover to the surface in full view of a video camera.

Touchdown

Big plans, which unfortunately never came to fruition. The descent system malfunctioned, which failed to deploy the parachute.

This caused the lander to crash land on Martian surface.

Location of the crash of the Mars 2 lander - Image source

 

Any attempts to contact the lander afterwards failed.

 

A big setback, but luckily they had launched a second, identical probe, the Mars 3. That lander would make it's way to Mars' surface a couple of days later, on 2 December 1971.


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