Emily LakdawallaJun 03, 2020

Our New Map of Every Mars Landing Attempt, Ever

The Planetary Society has a new and improved guide to all the places we've landed—or crashed—on Mars

It’s almost Mars launch season again! Once every 26 months, as Earth runs on its inside track around the Sun, physics favors launches from our planet toward Mars. There are 3 Mars-bound missions that plan to launch in July, and 2 of them hope to land. (The one that won’t land is just named Hope.) NASA will be launching the Perseverance rover, and China its Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover. There was to have been a 3rd rover launching this summer, but the European Space Agency had to delay Rosalind Franklin and Kazachok’s mission until the next opportunity comes around in 2022.

Many years ago, as Spirit and Opportunity were readying for launch, I produced a map of all the locations of landed Mars missions, both failed and successful. Since then I’ve updated it with Phoenix, Curiosity, Schiaparelli, and InSight. Now that we have several new missions planned, I figured it was time for a complete do-over. Here it is!

Every Mars Landing Attempt, Ever
Every Mars Landing Attempt, Ever Mars has seen 12 landing attempts, of which 8 have led to successful surface missions. All successes were also NASA missions. NASA has had only one Mars landing failure. ESA has made 2 unsuccessful attempts. Russia has tried 3 times. Of those, one—Mars 3—may have landed successfully, but ceased communication soon after. This map shows all of those sites, plus proposed landing regions for 3 future missions, on a shaded-relief map produced using Mars Global Surveyor laser altimeter data. The map will be updated with actual landing locations in early 2021 after the 2020 launches reach Mars. Emily Lakdawalla for The Planetary Society. Base maps processed by Patrick McGovern from MOLA data

Your Guide to Mars

Mars, the Red Planet, once had liquid water on the surface and could have supported life. We don't know how it changed to the cold, dry desert-world it is today.

To make this map, I dug into publications about landing site locations to get precise latitudes and longitudes. Wherever we know where landing sites are, we now have images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s powerfully sharp HiRISE camera, so these locations are precise out to the fourth decimal place, the accuracy limited only by how well the HiRISE images are registered to the topographic base map (0.0001 degrees is about 6 meters). There are several crash locations that have never been found, including Mars 2, Mars 6, and Mars Polar Lander.

I thought it would be interesting to note landing site elevations while I was looking up publications on landing positions. It turned out to be surprisingly hard to find elevation data; a lot of publications on Mars landing sites don’t include it. For most of the successful landing sites, there are two or more overlapping HiRISE images, permitting the production of a digital elevation model, so it’s possible to measure elevations that are accurate to the nearest meter or so. In the end I needed help from Tom Stein and Feng Zhou of Washington University in St. Louis to read elevations off of digital terrain models or topographic maps for me.

As far as I know, this is the first publication to include all the landing locations to this level of precision, and the first to list elevations for all Mars landing sites.

This map was a big research project, but it was actually an interim product that I made on the way to producing one that is a little friendlier for mobile viewing and social sharing. This simplified version has only the successful and future landing sites. Thanks to Planetary Society volunteer and retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory space image wrangler Sue LaVoie for helping me find or make the handy-dandy spacecraft icons.

Mars Landings: Past and Future
Mars Landings: Past and Future There have been 8 successful Mars landings, and 3 more are already planned. This map will be updated once the 2 launches of 2020 have attempted their landings in early 2021. The Planetary Society

I hope this map is useful to people, space fans and professionals alike. I’m providing it in both PNG (9.5 MB) and PDF (35 MB) form for easy, crisp printing. Enjoy!

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