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NASA Mars Exploration Program
Mars Exploration Program

Mission Types

So far, the exploration of Mars has occurred in three stages:

Flybys When we were just starting out in solar system exploration, the very first missions simply flew by Mars, taking as many pictures as possible on their way past.
Flyby missions include: Mariner 3-4 | Mariner 6-7

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Orbiters As our knowledge and technologies grew, we began putting spacecraft in orbit around Mars for longer term, global studies.
Orbital missions include:Mariner 8-9 | Viking 1-2 | Mars Observer | Mars Global Surveyorr | Mars Climate Orbiter | 2001 Mars Odyssey | Mars Express | Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Landers & Rovers:
Landers & Rovers Then, with even more capabilities over the years, we began to land on the surface. Today, we're not only landing in one place, but have shown that we can be mobile on the surface of Mars.

Landed missions include:
Viking 1-2 | Pathfinder | Polar Lander/Deep Space 2 | Mars Exploration Rovers | Phoenix | Mars Science Laboratory

In the future, Mars exploration may bring:

Airplanes & Balloons:
Airplanes & Balloons We may send craft that can study the planet from a perspective we've never achieved before: soaring views from the Martian sky.
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Subsurface Explorers:
Subsurface Explorers Going below the ground will tell us more about the geology of the planet, the presence of water, and maybe even clues about whether Mars was ever a habitat for life.
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Sample Returns:
Sample Returns Bringing samples of Martian rocks, soils, and atmosphere back to Earth would give us the opportunity to study the red planet close-up, in laboratories here on Earth.