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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#226 - Eric Berger - Mars Month

Kicking Off Mars Month in style Matt catches up with Eric Berger about his awesome new book and his thoughts on the latest happenings in Space. Mars stories and Missions start Mars Month off.

But I, remembering, pitied well And loved them, who, with lonely light, In empty infinite spaces dwell, ⁠Disconsolate. For, all the night, I heard the thin gnat-voices cry, Star to faint star, across the sky.

Rupert Brooke an English war poet,

A poem about the Outward urge the desire to travel further into space

Interview with Eric Berger whose book comes out this week, which talks about the early day of SpaceX. A company set up to go to Mars.

So today we’re going to talk about going to mars

March is obviously named after the war god of Mars and is the start of war season!!!

History, Early Percys

Man has thought about this journey for a long time.

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli born on 14 March 1835, was to kick start our obsession with the Red Planet. He studied at the University of Turin, graduating in 1854, he researched at Berlin Observatory, then the Pulkovo Observatory near St Petersburg, and then worked for over forty years at Brera Observatory in Milan.

Observations of the Red planet were already becoming possible in the early 19 century, and Giovanni once director of the Brera began mapping and naming areas on Mars.

He named what he thought were Martian "seas" and "continents" (dark and light areas) with names from historic and mythological sources. But most importantly he saw channels on Mars and called them "canali."

Canali means channels, but of course, it was mistranslated into "canals" which in turn is implying an intelligent life on Mars building waterways. The public’s imagination was to run riot. Especially as the Suez Canal had just been built! Schiaprelli worte a book 1893 – La vita sul pianeta Marte (Life on Mars)

Percy (no relation to the Mars Lander) Lowell (not to be confused with Lovel) born in March exactly 20 years after Schiaparelli on the 13th 1855, was a very rich businessman who built a huge observatory in Flagstaff, still going (In 2011, the Observatory was named one of "The World's 100 Most Important Places" by TIME, due to the discovery of Pluto there in 1930). Percy was obsessed with canals and mapped hundreds of them.

Lowell believed that the straight lines were artificial canals created by intelligent Martians and were built to carry water from the polar caps to the equatorial regions.

In 1895, he published his first book on Mars with many illustrations and, over the next two decades, published two more popular books advancing his ideas. It may be he was just drawing the veins in his own eyes!!!

Yet another Percy, Percy Greg who was the same age as Schiaparelli, was pretty fascinated by all this and wrote a book called Across the Zodiac. This book is actually incredible

  • Probs the first to invent it’s own “Art Language” - Alien language ...think Klingon

  • The first use of the word Astronaunt (used as the name of the spacecraft)

  • Credited as an originator of the sword and planet sub-genre of sci-fi (basically star wars)

  • The book details the creation and use of apergy, a form of anti-gravitational energy, and details a flight to Mars in 1830

Some notable physical journey’s in fiction (not involving just consciousness transfer)

A Plunge into Space (1890) by Robert Cromie. Henry Barnett learns how to combine electricity and gravity which permeates all material things,and builds a globular spaceship called the "Steel Globe". Barnett and some friends travel to Mars and find a society where there is no need for politicians, and Martians who travel in airships or flying through levitation.

Unveiling a Parallel (1893) by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant. The authors use a journey to Mars as the frame for a utopian feminist novel, The nameless hero travels to the planet Mars in an "aeroplane." one of the earliest uses of the word in English they visit two different "Marsian" societies; in both, there is equality between men and women. In one, Paleveria, women have adopted the negative characteristics of men; in Caskia, gender equality "has made both sexes kind, loving, and generous."

Journey to Mars (1894) by Gustavus W. Pope very influential book about a US and a Māori sailor, taken in a spaceship by a Martian to mars which is continually being hit by meteors, Martian canals are actually linear cities, which makes them thinner targets..

The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells

Edison's Conquest of Mars is an 1898 bizarre sequel by Garrett P. Serviss

Red Star (1908) by Alexander Bogdanov. The narrator is taken to Mars, which is imagined as a socialist utopia.

A Princess of Mars and another 10 Mars stories (1912–1943) by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Aelita (1922) by A.N. Tolstoy, among the first Soviet science fiction novels. An engineer Mstislav Sergeyevich Los Los', designs and constructs a revolutionary pulse detonation rocket and with a retired soldier, Alexei Gusev. They travel to Mars in a spaceship named Stellarium and meet two competing races on the planet.

Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis, While on a walking tour, the philologist Elwin Ransom is drugged and taken on board a spacecraft bound for a planet called Malacandra. Far back in Earth's past, it fell to an angelic being known as the Bent Oyarsa, and now, to prevent contamination of the rest of the Solar System ("The Field of Arbol"), it is known as "the silent planet" (Thulcandra).

Project Mars: A Technical Tale (written 1949, published 2006) by Wernher von Braun is a novel about the first human mission to Mars and their encounter with Martians on the planet; it includes a technical specification for the expedition to Mars.

The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury.

The Outward Urge (1959) by John Wyndham. Describes a comparatively realistic Mars landing, without any Martians, unusually for wyndham it is hard science fiction so is often under is another nom deplume Lucas Parkes, The novel is a future history, set from 1994 to 2194. It tells the story, with chapters at 50-year intervals, of the exploration of the Solar System, with space stations in Earth orbit 1990, then Moon bases 2020’s, Nuclear war 2044, and landings on Mars in 2094, Venus in 2144, and the asteroids, Troon family, several members of which play an important part in the exploration of space, since they all feel "the outward urge", the desire to travel further into space.

The great disappointment

Mariner 4 in July 1965 found that Mars—contrary to expectations—is heavily cratered, with a very thin atmosphere. No canals were found; while scientists did not believe that Mars was a moist planet, the lack of surface water surprised them

Many of the above however because the scientists, including Carl Sagan who had become so enamoured with science fiction, had Craters on Mars named after them.

Large Martian craters (greater than 60 kilometres in diameter) are named after famous scientists and science fiction authors; smaller ones (less than 60 km in diameter) get their names from towns on Earth. Craters cannot be named for living people, and small crater names are not intended to be commemorative – that is, a small crater isn't actually named after a specific town on Earth, but rather its name comes at random from a pool of terrestrial place names, with some exceptions made for craters near landing sites

Mission to Mars

What decade saw the Most launches to Mars?

1960s 13

1970s 11

1980s 2

1990s 8

2000s 8

2010s 6

2020s 3

However there has never been as many active Mars missions as there are today, 11 in total.

Russia’s Jinx!!!

Russia was the first to try to get to mars! ...but ouch, it never has been totally successful!!!

Starting in 1960, the Soviets launched a series of probes to Mars including the first intended flybys and hard (impact) landing

1 & 2 The Mars 1M programs, Marsnik in Western media, consisted of two flyby probes launched in October 1960, Mars 1960A and Mars 1960B (also known as Korabl 4 and Korabl 5 respectively). The third stage failed for both and the spacecraft reached an altitude of 100 miles and not the 100 million miles required, before reentry.

3 & 4 Mars 1962A was a Mars flyby mission, launched on October 24, 1962 and Mars 1962B an intended first Mars lander mission, launched in late December 1962 both failed to get out of earth orbit.

5 Mars 1 (1962 Beta Nu 1), an automatic interplanetary spacecraft launched to Mars on November 1, 1962, was the first probe of the Soviet Mars probe program to achieve interplanetary orbit, On 21 March 1963, when the spacecraft was at a distance of 106,760,000 km from Earth, on its way to Mars, communications ceased due to failure of its antenna orientation system.

6 & 7 In 1964, Zond 1964A had a failure at launch, while communication was lost with Zond 2 en route to Mars after a mid-course manoeuvre, in early May 1965.

7 & 8 In 1969, two identical 5-ton orbiters called M-69, dubbed by NASA as Mars 1969A and Mars 1969B. Both probes were lost in launch-related complications with the newly developed Proton rocket ...very scary stuff.

9 The USSR intended to have the first artificial satellite of Mars, Cosmos 419 (Mars 1971C), a heavy probe of the Soviet Mars program M-71, also failed to launch due to upper stage malfunction

10 & 11 The next two probes of project M-71, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were multipurpose combinations of an orbiter and a lander with small skis-walking rovers that would be the first planet rovers outside the Moon. They were successfully launched in mid-May 1971 and reached Mars about seven months later. On November 27, 1971 the lander of Mars 2 crash-landed due to an on-board computer malfunction and became the first man-made object to reach the surface of Mars. On 2 December 1971, the Mars 3 lander became the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing, but its transmission was interrupted after 14.5 seconds, The Mars 2 and 3 orbiters sent back a relatively large volume of data covering the period from December 1971 to March 1972, although transmissions continued through to August. By 22 August 1972, after sending back data and a total of 60 pictures, Mars 2 and 3 concluded their missions. The images and data enabled creation of surface relief maps, and gave information on the Martian gravity and magnetic fields

12,13,14 & 15 In 1973, the Soviet Union sent four more probes to Mars: the Mars 4 and Mars 5 orbiters and the Mars 6 and Mars 7 flyby/lander combinations. All missions except Mars 7 sent back data, with Mars 5 being most successful. Mars 5 transmitted just 60 images before a loss of pressurization in the transmitter housing ended the mission. Mars 6 lander transmitted data during descent but failed upon impact. Mars 4 flew by the planet at a range of 2200 km returning one swath of pictures and radio occultation data, which constituted the first detection of the nightside ionosphere on Mars. Mars 7 probe separated prematurely from the carrying vehicle due to a problem in the operation of one of the onboard systems (attitude control or retro-rockets) and missed the planet by 1,300 kilometres

Mars 5M (Mars 79) was a sample return mission developed in 1977 to be double launched in 1979 by Proton launchers and then docked in Earth orbit for a joint flight of orbital and return modules to Mars. The project was cancelled due to the low reliability of the Igla automatic docking system

On November 8, 2011, Russia's Roscosmos launched an ambitious mission called Fobos-Grunt. It consisted of a lander aimed to retrieve a sample back to Earth from Mars' moon Phobos, and place the Chinese Yinghuo-1 probe in Mars' orbit. The Fobos-Grunt mission suffered a complete control and communications failure shortly after launch and was left stranded in low Earth orbit, later falling back to Earth. The Yinghuo-1 satellite and Fobos-Grunt underwent destructive re-entry on January 15, 2012, finally disintegrating over the Pacific Ocean

Americans much healthier stats

1 & 2 In 1964, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory made Mariner 3 and Mariner 4, identical spacecraft designed to carry out the first flybys of Mars. Mariner 3 was launched on November 5, 1964, but the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed. Three weeks later, on November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 was launched successfully. Mariner 4 flew past Mars on July 14, 1965, providing the first close-up photographs of another planet.

The pictures, recorded to a small tape recorder on the probe, showed impact craters.

It provided radically more accurate data about the planet; a surface atmospheric pressure of about 1% of Earth's and daytime temperatures of −100 °C were estimated. No magnetic field or Martian radiation belts were detected. Total disappointment for life and back to the drawing board for the landers.

3 & 4 NASA continued the Mariner program with another pair of Mars flyby probes, Mariner 6 and 7. They were sent at the next launch window and reached the planet in 1969.

5 & 6 During the following launch window, the Mariner program again suffered the loss of one of a pair of probes, Mariner 9 successfully entered orbit about Mars, the first spacecraft ever to do so, after the launch time failure of its sister ship, Mariner 8 When Mariner 9 reached Mars in 1971, it and two Soviet orbiters (Mars 2 and Mars 3) found that a planet-wide dust storm was in progress. The mission controllers used the time spent waiting for the storm to clear to have the probe rendezvous with, and photograph, Phobos. When the storm cleared sufficiently for Mars' surface to be photographed by Mariner 9, the pictures returned represented a substantial advance over previous missions. These pictures were the first to offer more detailed evidence that liquid water might at one time have flowed on the planetary surface. Nix Olympica was one of only a few features that could be seen during the planetary duststorm, revealing it to be the highest mountain / volcano on any planet in the entire Solar System, and leading to its reclassification as Olympus Mons

Time for a landing!!!

VIKING 1 and 2 - 1975; The program consisted of two orbiters and two landers – these were the second and third spacecraft to successfully land on Mars. One of the best missions of all time, sending back colour photos from the surface of mars. The results of the biological experiments on board the Viking landers actually remain tantallisingly inconclusive, with a reanalysis of the Viking data published in 2012, Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments

Giorgio Bianciardi suggesting robust signs of microbial life on Mars

Big failure 1992 NASA's Mars Observer orbiter, 111 months after launch. it was scheduled to perform an orbital insertion manoeuvre on August 24, 1993, but contact with the spacecraft was lost on August 21, 1993. The likely reason for the spacecraft failure was the leakage of fuel and oxidizer vapors through the improperly designed PTFE check valve to the common pressurization system. During interplanetary cruise, the vapor mix had accumulated in feed lines and pressurant lines, resulting in explosion and their rupture after the engine was restarted for routine course correction. A similar problem later crippled the Akatsuki space probe in 2010.

The Mars Exploration Program was formed officially in the wake of the Mars Observer's failure in September 1993

Time for roving

Mars Pathfinder was a U.S. spacecraft that landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars on July 4, 1997. It consisted of a lander and a small 10.6 kilograms (23 lb) wheeled robotic rover named Sojourner, such as an airbag landing system and automated obstacle avoidance, both later exploited by the Mars Exploration Rovers.

NASA launched Mars Global Surveyor launched on November 7, 1996, and entered orbit on September 12, 1997. After a year and a half trimming its orbit from a looping ellipse to a circular track around the planet, the spacecraft began its primary mapping mission in March 1999

In 2001, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter arrived at Mars


On June 2, 2003, the European Space Agency's Mars Express set off from Baikonur Cosmodrome to Mars. The Mars Express craft consists of the Mars Express Orbiter and the stationary lander Beagle 2. The orbiter entered Mars orbit on December 25, 2003, and Beagle 2 entered Mars' atmosphere the same day. However, attempts to contact the lander failed. The lander's fate remained a mystery until it was located intact on the surface of Mars in a series of images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images suggest that two of the spacecraft's four solar panels failed to deploy, blocking the spacecraft's communications antenna. Beagle 2 is the first and only British and European probe to achieve a soft landing on Mars

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover (MER) involving the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. 2003 both landed on Mars at separate locations in January 2004. Both rovers far outlived their planned missions of 90 Martian solar days: MER-A Spirit was active until March 22, 2010, while MER-B Opportunity was active until June 10, 2018

Sharpshooter - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) designed to study the geology and climate of Mars, provide reconnaissance of future landing sites, and relay data from surface missions back to Earth. It was launched on August 12, 2005 and reached Mars on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase.[2] The cost to develop and operate MRO through the end of its prime mission in 2010 was US$716.6 million. The spacecraft continues to operate at Mars, far beyond its intended design life. Due to its critical role as a high-speed data-relay for ground missions, NASA intends to continue the mission as long as possible, at least through the late 2020s. HiRISE (camera) is is a 0.5 m (1 ft 8 in) reflecting telescope, the largest ever carried on a deep space mission

The NASA Mars Science Laboratory mission with its rover named Curiosity was launched on November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater. The rover carries instruments designed to look for past or present conditions relevant to the past or present habitability of Mars

NASA's MAVEN is an orbiter mission to study the upper atmosphere of Mars. also serves as a communications relay satellite for robotic landers and rovers on the surface of Mars. MAVEN was launched 18 November 2013 and reached Mars on 22 September 2014

INDIA!!!! fourth space agency to successfully reach Mars

Mangalyaan was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) It was successfully inserted into Martian orbit on 24 September 2014. The mission is a technology demonstrator, and as a secondary objective, it will also study the Martian atmosphere. It was completed in a record low budget of $71 million, making it by far the least-expensive Mars mission to date

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is an atmospheric research orbiter built in collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos. It was injected into Mars orbit on 19 October 2016 to gain a better understanding of methane (CH4) and other trace gases present in the Martian atmosphere that could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity. The Schiaparelli EDM lander was destroyed when trying to land on the surface of Mars

InSight, with a heat flow probe and seismometer, to determine the deep interior structure of Mars.along with Two flyby CubeSats called MarCO were launched with InSight on 5 May 2018 to provide real-time telemetry during the entry and landing of InSight. The CubeSats separated from the Atlas V booster 1.5 hours after launch and travelled their own trajectories to Mars. InSight landed successfully on Mars on 26 November 2018

HOPE It was successfully placed into orbit on 9 February 2021. It is studying the Martian atmosphere and weather.

Tianwen The orbiter was placed into orbit on 10 February 2021. The lander and rover are currently planned to land in May 2021.

Percy The car-size rover weighs about 1 ton, with a robotic arm that reaches about 7 feet, zoom cameras, a chemical analyzer and a rock drill and a bloody helicopter!!!!


As part of the ExoMars program, ESA and the Roscosmos plan to send the Rosalind Franklin rover in 2022 to search for evidence of past or present microscopic life on Mars.[102] The lander to deliver the rover is called Kazachok, and it will perform scientific studies for about 2 years.

India's ISRO plans to send a follow-up mission to its Mars Orbiter Mission in 2024;[103] it is called Mars Orbiter Mission 2 (MOM-2) and it will consist of an orbiter, and probably a rover.[

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