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The Soviet's Secret Mars Landing

May 03, 2024
More than 50 years ago a spacecraft was lost on the planet Mars after disappearing in a gigantic dust storm. The probe transmitted only a brief message to Moscow, in the heart of the former Soviet Union. All we know is that it sent back a mysterious encoded image of the Martian landscape and then silently Forever This is Russia's



on Mars When we talk about the space race of the 1960s, the conversation is usually dominated by moon and the first human


, but there was a much more


race underway to make the first scientific discoveries about the planet Mars, until that time we knew virtually nothing about our nearest planetary neighbor, there were still very well-considered theories that Mars It was home to thriving plant and animal life, including artificial channels of running water created by an intelligent and hardworking Martian population.
the soviet s secret mars landing
There was no way to know for sure until we went there and investigated the planet up close with our own instruments. Between the years 1960 and 1969 there were 12 attempted Mars missions, eight from the Soviet Union and four from the US. Three of them reached the Red Planet intact and operational. All were American. The Soviet Union took an early lead in the space race were the first to deploy a satellite into orbit the first to send a human being into space and their The lunar probes were the first to reach the surface of the Moon, performing the first flyby and a close examination of Mars would have been another resounding wind for the Soviets, but this is where the space race began to take a turn toward the United States after two failed attempts in 1960.
the soviet s secret mars landing

More Interesting Facts About,

the soviet s secret mars landing...

The Soviets came agonizingly close to success in 1962 with a deep space probe known as Mars 1. It wasn't their first attempt to reach Mars, but the Soviet government had a bad habit of pretending failed missions never happened and renaming them. to something else so it could try again, this particular version of Mars 1 actually managed to leave Earth's orbit and was triumphantly heading for a flyby of Mars that would take it to within 11,000 km of the surface. Everything looked great for about 4 months until at a distance of 106 million kilometers from Earth the probe went silent and was never heard from again.
the soviet s secret mars landing
By the mid-1960s, NASA had established its leadership in space exploration with Mariner 4. In July 1965, this probe made the first close flyby of Mars. At just over 6,000 km above the surface, Mariner 4 recorded the first detailed photographs of the Martian landscape, which was astonishing for the time, but unfortunately what those photos revealed was a dead, cratered world that looked almost like our own. Moon itself, only redder. There are no forests, no canals, no signs of life at all, so it was a bit noisy, but obviously not the end of our fascination with Mars. We all know that NASA landed on the moon in the summer of 1969 and consolidated its victory in the space race but the Soviets had one last Hail Mary play in greatness.
the soviet s secret mars landing
They were going to be the first to land on Mars. 1971 was an important year for the exploration of Mars. We know. That Earth and Mars come relatively close in their orbits around the Sun about once every 2 years, but every 15 to 17 years we get an even closer alignment than usual between the two planets. This is the event where both the American and Soviet space programs were eager to capitalize on NASA's plan which was ambitious in itself. Immediately after successfully completing the flyby maneuvers with Mariner 4, 6 and 7, the Americans wanted to test the first stable orbit around Mars, from here they could carry out long-term observation of the entire planet, mapping its surface and examining the content of its upper atmosphere.
It was key data that would be needed for NASA's first attempt to land in the Soviet Union. They had made the decision to jump one step ahead and go directly to a controlled landing on the Martian surface. The plan was to send three missions in close succession. the first would be a Reconnaissance Orbiter called Mars 71 that would collect the same data the Americans were looking for because without measuring the atmosphere and taking images of the surface, you would basically be going blind, the Orbiter would be followed by known twin ground vehicles. Like Mars 2 and Mars 3, the idea was for Soviet engineers to use data collected in orbit to update the landing profile on the fly.
In theory, this was a great idea. In reality, the Soviet Mars Orbiter failed in space due to a simple but fatal programming error. The fourth stage engine was supposed to fire 1.5 hours into the flight; instead, its internal timer was set to 150 hours, leaving it permanently trapped in Earth's orbit, at which point the Soviets renamed the probe Cosmos 419 and pretended it was just another observation satellite. and he was supposed to be there with his dead reconnaissance Orbiter in space. Moscow made the decision to go ahead with the landing attempt knowing full well that they were going in blind while NASA was having moderate success with its own Mars Endeavors, its first Mariner 8 probe failed on launch and ended up falling back to the Earth instead of going to space, but it is TN with the Orbiter Mariner 9 was much more successful.
Mariner 9 actually preempted the Soviet mission and became the first man-made vehicle to orbit Mars. In an elliptical orbit that brought the probe within 1,400 km of the Martian surface, Mariner 9 carried six scientific instruments on board, including a visual imaging system with a resolution of 98 m per pixel, an increase over previous 790 m per pixel from previous Mars flybys. This was 2 weeks before the arrival of the Soviet Mars 2 and Mars 3 landers and of course the US was not interested in sharing any of their Mariner 9 data, they didn't even tell the Russians to a storm was brewing Mars 2 and 3 were identical spacecraft, each consisting of an orbital module and a descent module.
The idea was that after dropping the lander, the newly lightened orbital module would fire an engine to slow down and rise to a Mars-capable orbit where it could serve as a short-term observation satellite. Mars 2 was the first to arrive. The Soviets had no choice but to attempt an uncontrolled ballistic entry, meaning the lander would hit the atmosphere at full speed like a bullet, at which point we let fate take the wheel on its final trajectory. and the landing site will be determined by the forces of gravity, atmospheric drag and the aerodynamics of the probe. The descent module had a 2.9 m diameter heat shield that would act as the main Arrow booster system that should reduce speed from around 6 km/s.
Entering at just over 1 km/s or 3 and 1/2 times the speed of sound, unfortunately for Mars 2, its descent module arrived at too steep an angle, the onboard computer misinterpreted the altimeter data and the system landing was never deployed Mars 2 became the first man-made object to crash into the red planet, which remains an achievement. Mars 3 arrives on December 2, 1971 and the Soviets had the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, this time they got the angle of attack right after being launched from the Orbiter. The descent module spends 4 and a half hours approaching the atmosphere again Mars The heat shield protects during entry and begins the process of breaking the arrow when the vehicle falls to the surface a radio altimeter is used to deter determine the descent speed when it reaches the terminal speed of Mach 3.5 the supersonic parachutes are deployed Now keep in mind this is the first time a parachute has been used on Mars no one really knew what was going to happen least of all the Soviets but this time it works The descent module is slowing down but with the thin Martian atmosphere it won't be slow enough, so the module is equipped with gunpowder-fed retro rockets that are fired in the final seconds to slow it down enough to release the landing capsule a few meters.
Above the surface, rockets push what remains of The Descent module and parachute as the egg-shaped capsule falls to the surface. Its impact with the ground is quite strong, but the lander is cushioned by a thick layer of foam. This whole system with the arrow. The shielding of the parachutes, Retro Rockets and shock absorber is almost identical to the method NASA would use for all of its Mars landings. NASA became more sophisticated over time, but the basic theory is the same and this was done by the Soviet Union within the year. 1971 5 years before NASA landed on Mars after impacting the surface and stopping, the Mars 3 Landing capsule deployed four triangular pedals to right itself and expose its suite of scientific instruments.
The lander was equipped with a mass spectrometer to study atmospheric composition and sensors to measure temperature, pressure and wind speed, even a mechanical shovel to search the soil for organic materials and signs of life, just in case. This wasn't impressive enough. Mars even carried its own mini Rover, the M booster, it was more like a small one. metal box only 21 cm long and 16 cm wide weighed 4 and 1/2 kg the M propeller had no wheels it used a pair of wide, flat skis cast in the arms that allowed it to advance slowly to which the Rover was attached the main lander and a 15M power cable and its purpose was to use a small probe on board that would measure the density of the Martian soil again.
We cannot emphasize enough that all of this arrived safely from Kazakhstan to the surface of Mars on the second attempt with virtually zero knowledge of the Martian environment before launch in 1971, 90 seconds after landing, the Mars 3 lander activated its systems and began transmission back to Moscow for the Soviet Union. This was a historic victory that was quickly followed by a historic failure after just 14 seconds of transmission the signal from Mars was cut out the only data that was received was this black and white encoded image it was such a disappointment that the Soviets didn't even They did not publish the photo nor tell anyone that they had landed on Mars, all this was considered one more disappointment in what was becoming a long series of failures in space exploration.
The Mars landing was largely kept secret for decades until the fall of the Soviet Union and the declassification of its records. Mars 3 Well, about every 5 years, the typical dust storms on Mars start to combine into a planet-wide superstorm that engulfs the entire surface without the Reconnaissance Orbiter to scan the environment. Soviet engineers on Earth had no idea about that. Their landers were landing on Mars at the worst possible time, it's not even a wind problem because the atmosphere on Mars is so thin that the storm exerts very little physical force, it's just the dust Martian dust is full of extremely electrostatic Sticky particles, we know now, but the people who built the Mars capsule in 1970 didn't know it, so there was no protection against dust.
It would very quickly have shorted out all exposed systems on the lander and prevented it from achieving any scientific goals. To make matters worse, the Mars 2 and 3 orbital modules, which managed to successfully reach orbit around Mars, were also unable to return any useful photographs because, instead of capturing details of the Martian surface, all they could see was the top of the planet. Meanwhile, the significantly better equipped Mariner 9 was able to wait out the storm and spent the next 3 months mapping around 70% of the planet's landscape making new historic discoveries such as Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system.
The fate of the Mars 3 lander in the early 2000s NASA released an ultra-high-resolution billion-pixel image of its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter based on the last known trajectory. The remains of the Soviet lander were believed to be somewhere in the image. In 2013, researchers identified what they believed to be the heat shield of the parachute and lander on the Martian surface.

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