|Mars 2020 (Perseverance and Ingenuity)||2021||The Mars 2020 mission was designed to take and analyze rock and soil samples, especially looking for signs of ancient microbial life. It includes the rover Perseverance and the first helicopter drone on another planet, Ingenuity. The helicopter is especially notable since the air on Mars is so much thinner than the air on Earth.|
|InSight||2018||The “INterior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport” (InSight) is a lander that’s been on Mars since 2018. InSight has been studying Mars’s seismic activity and geological geography (including looking at how it changed over time, and creating a model of the planet’s terrain).|
|MAVEN||2014||Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (or MAVEN) is a spacecraft that’s orbiting Mars. Its mission is to study the Martian atmosphere and ionosphere. It’s been in orbit since 2014. MAVEN observed such things as climatic events, auroras, and a close-by comet. It examined the evaporation of water on Mars and the effect of solar storms on the Martian atmosphere. The latter might explain how, over billions of years, Mars might have gone from being a warm planet to a frozen one. An observed solar storm seems to have doubled the radiation levels on Mars (at least for a brief period, which coincided with a huge aurora).|
|Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)||2012||The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a space probe that contained the rover Curiosity. The rover landed on the surface of Mars and—as of 2021—has been operational since 2012. The MSL sought to learn more about Martian geology and climate, including studying the presence of water. Curiosity helped determine these things as it explored the area around the Gale crater. It discovered that Mars could very well have had microbial life in its ancient history.|
|Dawn||2009||This spacecraft wasn’t actually headed to Mars–it was going to the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres, in the asteroid belt! But on the way it had a flyby of Mars (using gravity assist) in 2009. Dawn ended up getting to the asteroid belt in 2011, and its survey mission ended in 2018.|
|Phoenix||2008||Phoenix was a space probe that helped explore Mars. It landed on Mars and studied the planet from May to November, 2008. Phoenix landed on Mars’s polar surface (a first) and officially confirmed that there’s ice on Mars! This is important, as the presence of water indicates that there might once have been life there.|
|Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter||2006||The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since 2006. As of 2021, this orbiter has been studying Mars’s climate and geology (even though its initial mission was only supposed to last through 2010). The MRO confirmed ice scattered around craters, might have observed flowing subsurface salty water, and learned more about the Martian north polar ice cap. The MRO also serves as a data-relay between rovers on Mars’s surface and NASA back on Earth.|
|Spirit and Opportunity||2004||Twin rovers which landed at roughly the same time at opposite sides of Mars. Opportunity studied Mars 2004-2018 (Spirit was 2004-2010). “Oppy” was the little rover that could: it ran off solar power and remained functional for 14 more years than originally planned! The rovers studied the rocks on Mars, found extra-Martian meteorites, and discovered more clues about the water that was once on Mars.|
|Mars Odyssey||2001||Orbiter: mapping, search for water.|
|Mars Pathfinder||1997||Lander: This was the first bouncing landing (“airbag-mediated”). Pathfinder had a roving vehicle called Sojourner which performed extensive rock analysis.|
|Mars Global Surveyor||1997||Orbiter: examined surface features, atmosphere, and magnetic properties.|
|Viking 1 and 2||1976||Lander: surface photos, soil biochemistry investigated.
Orbiter: global mapping from orbit.
|Mariner 9||1971||FIRST ORBITER around another planet; mapping, photography, and atmospheric observations|
|Mariner 6 and 7||1969||Fly-by missions: atmosphere determined to be mostly CO2.|
|Mariner 4||1965||FIRST MARS FLY-BY: photos transmitted.|