After a gap of two decades, Russia has decided to join the race for Mars and send a mission to Mars next year, reminiscent of the erstwhile Cold War space polemics during the 1950s and 60s. The upcoming Mars mission comes after 15 unsuccessful and 2 partially successful missions undertaken by the erstwhile Societ Union and now Russia since 1960.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given a green signal to an unmanned Mars mission to be launched in 2019, one year earlier than NASA's plan to send one in August 2020. "We are planning unmanned and later manned launches -- into deep space, as part of a lunar program and for Mars exploration," Putin said in a new documentary, reports RT.
Russian Mars mission plan comes almost five years after India successfully launched its Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyaan in November 2013 that successfully entered Mars orbit on September 24, 2014 and is expected to be operational till 2020. Currently, three other space missions are operational in Mars orbit.
US private space agency SpaceX is also planning its Mars test flights in 2019 ahead of a cargo mission planned in 2022. "We want a new space race. Races are exciting," declared SpaceX founder Elon Musk last month and Putin has apparently taken a cue from it.
Russians are not new to Mars mission but most of them proved futile since the first flyby mission 1M No.1 that was launched on October 10, 1960. After repeated failures, Mars-orbiting missions, Russia was able to launch Mars 2 mission on May 19, 1971 that was partially successful and its loander was a failure.
Mars 2 entered Mars orbit on November 27, 1971, made 362 orbits though its mapping operations failed due to dust storms on the surface of the Red Planet. Within few days, another mission was launched but it was partially successful and its lander was a failure, followed by two consecutive failures again.
Mars 5 launched in July 1973 was partially successful again as it ceased to send visuals after nine days. Two more missions later -- Mars 6 and 7 too proved futile, virtually shelving the Mars mission launches by the erstwhile Soviet Union until July 1988 when Phobos 1 mission was launched, again unsuccessfully.
It was closely followed by Phobos 2 on July 12, 1988 that was also partially failure with the communications system lost. The next mission Mars 96 was launched by modern Russia in November 1996 but was not successful either.
In all, Russia has the highest record of launching 17 missions to Mars though only two of them were partially successful. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming mission in 2019 will test its mettle at Mars, where even China has failed.