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Celebrating 40 Years & 40 Missions to Mars

Kevin Gill

Every month Lake Effect contributor Jean Creighton discusses new and exciting happenings in the world of astronomy and astrophysics, but this month we’re taking a bit of a look back.

In July of 1976, the American Viking shuttle had a soft landing on Mars to capture a 20 second video before going silent, most likely due to a dust storm.

"I don't think they understood at that time truly how magnificent it was, because it was two decades before we were able to do that again," says the director of the UW-Milwaukee Manfred Olson Planetarium, Jean Creighton.

The next successful landing on Mars was with the Pathfinder in 1997, and another in 2012 with the Curiosity rover. In total there have been 40 missions to Mars between the U.S., USSR, India and the European Union. Approximately half of the missions to Mars did not succeed, but those that completed the long journey gathered vital pieces to the puzzle of the Red Planet.

Since the first historic Viking mission, scientists have explored the planet's surface; found evidence of water; analyzed components of its atmosphere, rocks and soil; and have garnered thousands of images.

If it wasn't for that first mission to Mars, we wouldn't even be considering landing humans on Mars, Creighton notes. "In 2016, we're talking about having people on Mars in 2035, more or less. So those first lessons have guided us to that dream."

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
Dr. Jean Creighton has always been inspired by how the cosmos works. She was born in Toronto, Ontario and grew up in Athens, Greece where her mother claims she showed a great interest in how stars form from the age of five.