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The Mars Scorecard

As you are well aware, Earth is currently the underdog in the Mars Expensive Hardware Lob.

We are monitoring the game which began in late 1960 and is still in progress. As far as we can tell, Earth has been the only Lobber, with scattered reports of a possibly thwarted Mars invasion of Earth in 1938.

For those of you just tuning in, here is the play-by-play.

Much thanks to Students for the Exploration and Development of Space for the history of the game, National Space Science Data Center for the details of each goal and fumble, and those who post to Slashdot for the occasional update.

And now, the game details:

Score Launch Date/Time (UTC) Name Player Details
0:0 1938 Oct 31 00:45:00 (unpronounceable) Mars Various scattered reports detail an invasion force of hundreds at Grovers Mill, NJ from Mars on 1938 October 31 around 01:50:00 UTC. Unfortunately, these reports are unsubstantiated; but even if true, the landers don't appear to have left with any information.

Scientists at Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems were unavaliable for comment.

1:0 1960 Oct 10 14:27:49 Marsnik 1 Russia The first play of the game and it's an incomplete. It appears that after launch, the third stage pumps were unable to develop enough thrust to commence ignition, so Earth parking orbit was not achieved. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 120 km before reentry.
2:0 1960 Oct 14 13:51:03 Marsnik 2 Russia Yet another incomplete in exactly the same fashion.
3:0 1962 Oct 24 17:55:04 Sputnik 22 Russia The spacecraft and attached upper stage either broke up as they were going into Earth orbit or had the upper stage explode in orbit during the burn to put the spacecraft into Mars trajectory. In either case, the spacecraft broke into many pieces, some of which apparently remained in Earth orbit for a few days. (This occurred during the Cuban missile crisis. The debris was detected by the U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar in Alaska and was momentarily feared to be the start of a Soviet nuclear ICBM attack.)
4:0 1962 Nov 01 16:14:16 Mars 1 Russia Early telemetry indicated that there was a leak in one of the gas valves in the orientation system so the spacecraft was transferred to gyroscopic stabilization. On its way to Mars, communications ceased, probably due to failure of the spacecraft orientation system.
5:0 1962 Nov 04 15:35:15 Sputnik 24 Russia The booster and spacecraft broke up during the burn to transfer to Mars trajectory. Five large pieces were tracked by the U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.
6:0 1964 Nov 05 19:22:05 Mariner 3 USA Earth puts in a new player, but a protective shield failed to eject after the spacecraft had passed through the Earth's atmosphere. None of the instrument sensors were uncovered, and the added weight prevented the spacecraft from attaining its prescribed Mars trajectory.
6:1 1964 Nov 28 14:22:01 Mariner 4 USA EARTH SCORES!!!! Mariner 4 successfully flies by Mars on 1965 Jul 14 and returns the first pictures of the Martian Surface.
7:1 1964 Nov 30 13:12:00 Zond 2 Russia One of the two solar panels failed so only half the anticipated power was available to the spacecraft. After a mid-course maneuver, communications with the spacecraft were lost in early May of 1965. The dormant spacecraft flew by Mars on 1965 August 6.
8:1 1967 Mar 27 Unnamed Russia "Launch Failure"
8:2 1969 Feb 24 01:29:02 Mariner 6 USA Earth scores another goal on 1969 Jul 31 with this flyby mission.
9:2 1969 Mar 27 10:40:45 Mars 1969A Russia This Soviet Mars mission was never officially announced but has since been identified as a planned orbiter. After successful operation of the first two stages, the third stage launcher experienced a malfunction in a rotor bearing which caused the turbopump to catch fire. The engine shut down and exploded (good thing it shut down, eh?); the remains of the craft landing in the Altai mountains.
9:3 1969 Mar 27 22:22:01 Mariner 7 USA In an amazing play to keep the game from being a shut-out, Mariner 7 flies by Mars on 1969 Aug 05.
10:3 1969 Apr 02 10:33:00 Mars 1969B Russia This Soviet Mars mission was never officially announced but has since been identified as a planned orbiter. The first stage of the launcher failed almost immediately. At 0.02 seconds after liftoff, one of the six first-stage rockets exploded. The control system initially compensated for the lost engine and the launch proceeded on 5 engines---until 25 seconds after liftoff, at approximately 1 km altitude, the rocket began to tip over to a horizontal position. The five engines shut down and the rocket impacted (ouch) and exploded (very important) 41 seconds after liftoff and approximately 3 km from the launch pad.

And so we end the first decade with the score 10 to 3. Earth needs to rally in the next decade to keep from being demoted to division 2.

Score Date/Time (UTC) Name Player Details
11:3 1971 May 08 01:11:00 Mariner 8 USA Just when you thought things were under control, after the main Centaur engine was ignited at T+265 seconds, the upper stage began to oscillate in pitch and tumbled out of control. The Centaur stage shut down 365 seconds after launch due to starvation caused by the tumbling. The Centaur and spacecraft payload separated and re-entered the Earth's atmosphere approximately 1500 km downrange and fell into the Atlantic Ocean about 560 km north of Puerto Rico.
12:3 1971 May 10 16:58:42 Cosmos 419 Russia The booster successfully put the spacecraft into low Earth parking orbit, but the stage 4 failed to function due to a bad ignition timer setting (the timer, which was supposed to start ignition 1.5 hours after orbit, was apparently set for 1.5 years). The orbit decayed much sooner than expected (only 2 days) and the spacecraft re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on 1971 May 12.
12:4 1971 May 19 16:22:44 Mars 2 Russia Beginning a short rally, Earth player Russia finally orbits Mars on 1971 Nov 27. The orbiter sent data back to Earth. The descent module, however, entered the Martian atmosphere at a steeper angle than planned. The descent system malfunctioned and the lander crashed at 45 deg S, 302 deg W, delivering the Soviet Union coat of arms to the surface. If you can recognize it.
12:5 1971 May 28 15:26:30 Mars 3 Russia Following one good toss with another, Earth player Russia sends another orbiter/lander to Mars. Twenty seconds after landing, the lander stopped working... And did I mention that the orbiter had suffered from a partial loss of fuel and did not have enough to put itself into a planned 25 hour orbit? No matter. We got pictures!
12:6 1971 May 30 22:23:00 Mariner 9 USA Mariner 9 arrived at Mars and began orbiting on 1971 Nov 14 making it the first spacecraft to orbit another planet (even though fellow player Russia began a successful attempt to do so 11 days earlier). We expect it to decay and plunge into the Martian atmosphere in late 2022. Where will you be? On Mars?
12:7 1973 Jul 21 19:30:59 Mars 4 Russia A very close play. The hardware reached Mars on 1974 February 10. Due to a flaw in the computer chip, the retro-rockets never fired to slow the craft into Mars orbit. Mars 4 flew by the planet at a range of 2200 km. It returned one swath of pictures and some radio occultation data which constituted the first detection of the nightside ionosphere on Mars.
12:8 1973 Jul 25 18:55:48 Mars 5 Russia Another successful orbiter reaching mars on 1974 Feb 12.
13:8 1973 Aug 05 17:45:48 Mars 6 Russia An overzealous attempt to land on the planet. Contact with the descent module was lost at 09:11:05 UT in "direct proximity to the surface", probably either when the retrorockets fired or when it hit the surface at an estimated 61 m/s. The descent module transmitted 224 seconds of data before transmissions ceased. Unfortunately, much of the data were unreadable due to a flaw in a computer chip which led to degradation of the system during its journey to Mars.
14:8 1973 Aug 09 17:00:17 Mars 7 Russia INCOMPLETE! And so close, too. Due to a problem in the operation of one of the onboard systems (attitude control or retro-rockets) the landing probe separated prematurely (4 hours before encounter) and missed the planet by 1300 km.
14:9 1975 Aug 20 21:22:00 Viking 1 USA One of the better remembered plays in the game. 1976 June 19 the orbiter began to orbit and the lander landed on July 20. Shortly after landing, the probe sent back the first picture from the surface of Mars.
14:10 1975 Sep 09 18:39:00 Viking 2 USA Again, a very famous play. Orbit on 1976 Aug 07 and a soft landing on September 03.

Another decade is over and Earth has rallied well, but is still behind with the score at 14 to 10. Foul weather allowed for only two plays in the third decade:

Score Date/Time (UTC) Name Player Details
15:10 1988 Jul 07 17:38:04 Phobos 1 Russia Phobos 1 operated nominally until an expected communications session on September 02 failed to occur. The failure of controllers to regain contact with the spacecraft was traced to an error in the software uploaded on August 29/30 which had deactivated the attitude thrusters. This resulted in a loss of lock on the Sun, causing the spacecraft to orient the solar arrays away from the Sun and deplete the batteries.
15:11 1988 Jul 12 17:01:43 Phobos 2 Russia In this oh-so-close play, Phobos 2 collected some useful data upon approach to one of the red planet's moons. Shortly before the final phase of the mission, during which the spacecraft was to approach within 50 m of Phobos' surface and release two landers, one a mobile `hopper', the other a stationary platform, contact with Phobos 2 was lost. Were it not for the earlier data collection, this play would have been lost.

Entering decade four, Mars retains its four point lead. The Earth takes on a new coach, Dan Goldin, in 1992. Let's see how they do with his "Faster, better, cheaper" method.

Score Date/Time (UTC) Name Player Details
16:11 1992 Sep 25 17:05:01 Mars Observer USA After all we have come to expect from this player, Mars Observer makes it all the way to Mars orbit insertion. After it was asked to pressurize a fuel tank...

"In space, noone can hear you go BOOM"

16:12 1996 Nov 07 17:00:50 Mars Global Surveyor USA A fine recovery after the last "oops." Began orbiting Mars on 1997 Sep 12.

2005-05-10: Over eight years after launch, it is possible that Global Surveyor has found the wreckage of Mars Polar Orbiter on Mars.

2006-11-02: MGS notified Earth that it had trouble adjusting the position of one of its two solar panels. It has not been heard from since, except for a very weak signal on 2006-11-05. The failure to position the solar panel properly may have left the spacecraft with too little power to transmit a signal to Earth.

Even if MGS is dead, it will continue orbiting Mars for decades to come. But its orbit will decay, causing it to plunge into Mars' atmosphere sometime around 2046. (from NewScientist)

17:12 1996 Nov 16 20:48:53 Mars 96 Russia A swing and a miss. The spacecraft was launched into Earth orbit, but failed to achieve insertion into Mars cruise trajectory and re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at about 00:45 to 01:30 UT on November 17 and crashed within a presumed 320 km by 80 km area which includes parts of the Pacific Ocean, Chile, and Bolivia. The cause of the crash is not known.
17:13 1996 Dec 04 06:58:00 Mars Pathfinder USA Continuing to trade tit for tat, Mars Pathfinder lands on the Martian surface on 1997 Jul 04.
18:13 1998 Jul 03 18:12:00 Nozomi Japan In what can only be called the wildest interplanetary fumble in the world, the Earth takes yet another swipe across the nose. On December 20, the spacecraft attempted to use gravitational assist from an Earth flyby to put it on a course for Mars. Unfortunately, a malfunctioning valve wasted fuel and caused the spacecraft to miss its trajectory. The two necessary course corrections expended further fuel. In an attempt to save the play, it was decided to allow the spacecraft to remain in orbit around the sun for four years when a lower velocity trajectory would be avaliable. However, on 2002 April 21, powerful solar flares damaged the spacecraft's onboard communications and power systems. An electrical short then shut down the heaters causing the hydrazine fuel to freeze. When the spacecraft returned for another Earth swing-by on 2003 June 19, the fuel was thawed out. Another attempt was made to put it back on course for Mars, but the main thruster orbital insertion burn failed on December 9.

And Mars replied: "All your base are belong to us."

19:13 1998 Dec 10 18:45:51 Mars Climate Orbiter USA Yes folks, it's true. Not all of Earth's players use the same units for measurement. Engineers in the USA calculated trajectory-correction burns in pounds/second and the spacecraft was programmed to accept the numbers as newtons/second. These burns were occuring 12-14 times per week.

I think it's time for a certain country to get with the program, don't you?

20:13 1999 Jan 03 20:21:10 Mars Polar Lander USA Marty took a very good pot-shot at this lander. The last telemetry from Mars Polar Lander was sent just prior to atmospheric entry on 3 December 1999. No further signals have been received from the lander. The cause of this loss of communication is not known.

2005-05-10: Five years later, it is possible that the wreckage has been found on Mars. Mars Global Surveyor (launched three years earlier) took some snapshots of an area that appear to contain the probe and its parachute and the data seem to fit the scenario proposed by the MPL review board:

``The board suggested that MPL's landing rockets fired at the right time and altitude but cut off prematurely. They were suppose[d] to continue firing until one of the craft's landing legs touched the surface. Apparently the onboard software mistook the jolt of landing-leg deployment for ground contact and shut down the engines, causing MPL to fall from a presumed height of 40 meters (130 feet)."
---Sky & Telescope, ``Mars Polar Lander Found at Last?" (2005 May 05).

And we close out decade four with Mars pulling ahead with a 20 to 13 lead. We're now in decade five and we've started with a hot-streak:

Score Date/Time (UTC) Name Player Details
20:14 2001 Apr 07 15:02:22 Mars Odyssey USA Starting another winning streak, The Odyssey orbiter made it to orbit on 2001 Oct 24
20:15 2003 Jun 02 17:45:00 Mars Express ESA Mars Express fired its main thrusters on December 25 and successfully entered Mars orbit. The Beagle 2 lander, however, has not been heard from.
This was a two-pronged mission which did successfully arrive and orbit Mars with the added bonus of dropping some luggage on the planet for later collection.
20:16 2003 Jun 10 17:58:47 Spirit USA Showing team spirit, this rover landed on Mars on 2004 Jan 04.
Eighteen days into the mission, Spirit had major trouble involving its flash memory and the software used to communicate with that memory. The problem was solved and Spirit continues to wander over the Martian surface.

So who did you buy your RAM from?

20:17 2003 Jul 08 03:18:15 Opportunity USA The lander arrived at the Meridiani Planum on Mars on Jan 25 05:05 UTC and... ITS A SCORE! We got pictures on Jan 25 09:12 UTC and the spacecraft seems in good health.
20:18 2005 Aug 12 11:43:00 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter USA Here's our next chance to close the gap... A successful launch from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral was a good way to start. Four for four this decade. If this one successfully arrives at Mars we'll have duplicated a winning streak we haven't seen since the 1970s.
2006 March 10 20:16 we re-estabilished communications with the orbiter once it entered Mars orbit. While I have no doubts that this will be another score for Earth.... why no snap-shots yet?
2006 March 24 WE GOT IMAGES! A fine showing for this decade. Will we keep up the winning streak?
The factsheet states that the next six months will be used to modify the polar orbit into a near-circle (255 km periapsis over the south pole and 320 km apoapsis over the north pole) with a period of 112 minutes. ``There will be twelve sun-synchronous orbits per day so that the orbiter will always see the ground at 3:00 p.m. local time at the equator. Science operations will take place nominally from the end of solar conjunction in November 2006 to the start of the next solar conjunction in November 2008, roughly one martian year. Total cost of the mission is estimated at about $720 million."
20:19 2004 Mar 02 07:17 Rosetta ESA An EHL enthusiast sent in a report for a multiple-play attempt by another Earth team member. Rosetta is due to rendezvous with Comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, drop a probe on the surface, study the comet from orbit, and fly by at least one asteroid en route.

On its way, it took some pretty amazing images of Mars on 2007 Feb 25.

Earth closes the gap yet another notch.

20:20 2007 Aug 4 10:00:00 Phoenix USA The Phoenix Mars Mission is the first in NASA's Scout Program. Phoenix is designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil.

Lo and behold, after 43 years, Earth finally ties this game up!

??:?? 2007 Sep 1 DAWN USA Actually designed to rendezvous and orbit the asteroids 4 Vesta and 1 Ceres, this spacecraft will make a Mars flyby in 2009 February.
2006 March 2: DAWN has been cancelled and will not fly before 2007.
2007 August 3: Set for 2007 September 1 launch.