What countries have been to Mars so far?
Last Updated: October 10, 2023
Mars has been in the news a lot recently as NASA strives to land the first people on Mars by the 2040s and private space companies dream of being the first to offer a space tourism flight to the Red Planet. But how many countries have been to Mars? While it’s the most studied planet in our solar system, the answer to this specific question may surprise you.
Since Mars is only one stop away in our solar system and a rocky planet with a more hospitable environment than Venus, it has been the subject of many different research missions. Our closest planetary neighbor is only about 6-8 months away by rocket as opposed to the years it takes for even probes to travel to the outer planets. But getting to Mars safely and landing on it successfully has proven to be a difficult task to conquer and one that not many have achieved.
However, as we continue to study the solar system, universe, and our own planet, there are more and more reasons to send humans to Mars, even to colonize it, meaning more and more missions to study the planet by probe before we finally send humans (NASA’s current timeline is by the 2040s).
As of this publication (October 2023), only six “countries” have “been” to Mars:
- United States
- Soviet Union/ Russia
- European Union represented by ESA
- United Arab Emirates
Which countries have been to Mars?
Getting to Mars depends on your definition. Did a probe perform a flyby to take data measurements and pictures? Did a probe insert itself into orbit to study the planet? Did we land something on the surface of Mars?
For the purpose of this article, we will consider all of these options as “going to Mars”, but will specify the various types of missions, particularly those that landed on the surface as that is often the intention behind this question and an amazing feat of engineering and science.
The USA- 15+ completed missions
Mars is easily the most studied planet and NASA has taken the forefront in studying it up close. Since successfully completing humanity’s first successful flyby in 1965 by Mariner 4, and our first successful landing in 1976 by Viking 1, NASA has continued leading the charge in observing the Red Planet from orbit, the surface, and even the air thanks to Ingenuity, the Martian helicopter with the Perseverance rover.
In addition to its own missions including notable rovers like Opportunity and Curiosity, landers like the Vikings and Phoenix, and orbiters like Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN, NASA has also partnered with other organizations including the ESA to study Mars, making the exact number of successful missions dependent on your definition of a NASA mission. However, it is at least 15.
The Soviet Union – 6 at least partially completed missions
As part of the space race, the Soviet Union sent several missions to Mars in the early 70s, of which 6 at least partially completed their missions, often with successful flybys.
In late November 1971, Mars 2 became the 1st lander and rover to impact Mars, but the orbiter completed 362 orbits. A few days later, Mars 3 became the 1st lander to make a soft landing on Mars, but was lost 110 seconds later.
The European Union – 2 completed missions
The European Space Agency has completed 2 missions to Mars and is planning 2 more in the next decade. The ESA not only comprises multiple countries’ space agencies and contributions within the European Union, but also partners with other space organizations such as NASA, the UK, and the Italian Space Agency.
Mars Express has successfully studied the atmosphere and surface of Mars from polar orbit since December 2003, but lost the Beagle 2 Lander before it landed. ExoMars 2016 includes a series of missions to explore if life ever existed on Mars with the Trace Gas Orbiter successfully entering orbit in October 2016, but the landing demo was lost shortly before touchdown.
In cooperation with NASA and other agencies, the ESA is planning 2 future Mars missions. First, the Mars Sample Return planned for 2027 and 2028, will return samples from NASA’s Perseverance rover to Earth, making them the first collected and returned Martian samples to Earth in 2033. Continuing the 2016 ExoMars mission, ExoMars 2022/2028 will feature the ESA’s first rover, the Rosalind Franklin which will work with the TGO to continue searching for ancient life.
India: 1 completed mission
Unofficially known as Mangalyaan, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission launched in November 2013 with the goal of making it the fourth space agency/ country to achieve Mars orbit and study the Red Planet. The Mars Orbiter Mission began orbiting Mars in 2014, but unfortunately, contact was lost in April 2022.
The United Arab Emirates – 1 completed mission
The Hope Orbiter/ Emirates Mars Mission launched in July 2020 and arrived at Mars in February 2021. It is still exploring the Red Planet, with a particular focus on mapping a complete picture of its atmosphere to better understand its climate and interactions with outer space.
China – 1 completed mission
In May 2021, China made history by becoming the second nation to land a rover on Mars successfully: the Zhurong. The Tianwen-1 mission included an orbiter which arrived at Mars in February 2021, a lander, and the rover. Meaning “questions to heaven,” or “questioning the heavens”, Tianwen is China’s first interplanetary mission of its kind to study the Red Planet featuring multiple notable cameras.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which country was the first to reach Mars?
This depends on how you define “reach” Mars. While the space race made this extremely tight with Soviet attempts nearby, NASA’s Mariner 4 made the first successful flyby of Mars on July 15, 1965.
Technically, the Soviet Union was the first to impact Mars when Mars 2 crashed into the Martian surface in November 1971 and then made the first successful soft landing shortly after in early December 1971, but contact was lost less than 2 minutes later.
After several failed Soviet Union landing attempts, NASA’s Viking 1 achieved the first successful landing on Mars in July 1976.
How many countries have landed on Mars?
Three: America, the Soviet Union, and China.
America has sent multiple landers and rovers to the surface that have survived a soft landing while the Soviet Union achieved soft landings in the 70s even if the landers did not survive long after. China has only recently become the second nation to successfully land a lander and rover on the Red Planet.
How many rovers and landers have been to Mars?
11 robots (6 rovers and 5 landers) have been to Mars with three still currently in operation (Curiosity, Perseverance, and Zhurong). Note that Perseverance also contains the helicopter Ingenuity.
Sarah Hoffschwelle is a freelance writer who covers a combination of topics including astronomy, general science and STEM, self-development, art, and societal commentary. In the past, Sarah worked in educational nonprofits providing free-choice learning experiences for audiences ages 2-99. As a lifelong space nerd, she loves sharing the universe with others through her words. She currently writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@sarah-marie and authors self-help and children’s books.
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