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NASA's current mission to send an astronaut to Mars is driven by development of the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The capsule spacecraft is being designed to take humans back to the moon by 2020. In later years, by rendezvous with Mars-bound vehicles assembled in orbit, it may take the first humans to the Red Planet. These future possibilities are exciting, but unmanned spacecraft have already greatly enhanced our knowledge of Mars. Dozens of spacecraft have been sent to Mars, but only about one of every three missions has been a success. This sobering statistic underscores just how difficult it remains to send a craft to Mars and see it arrive in proper working order to transmit data back to Earth. The first Mars missions were called flybys and involved getting a spacecraft close to the planet so that it could take images in passing. NASA's Mariner spacecraft were small robotic craft designed to explore the neighboring planets of Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Mariner 4 passed Mars in July 1965 and captured close-up images of this foreign world—the first Mars images ever returned to Earth. First Lander on Mars In 1971 the Soviet space program scored a major success by putting the first spacecraft into Martian orbit and even touching a lander vehicle down on its surface. The Mars 3 orbiter returned some eight months of data that revealed much about the planet's topography, atmosphere, weather, and geology. Though the mission's lander was able to touch down on the surface, it returned data for only about 20 seconds before it went dark. Later, orbiting spacecraft such as like NASA's Mariner 9 returned far more detailed data on the planet's atmosphere, mapped its surface, revealed Martian topography, and captured many more images of this strange and distant world. These missions solved some mysteries, such as dispelling the long-held myth of Martian canals that evidenced an ancient civilization. They also raised many new questions, such as the nature of ancient riverbeds that point to the presence of ancient liquid water on the planet. ------- Discovery Science BBC Documentary 2015 | #Mindblow Mars Exploration National Geographic Full Lengths