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We've successfully landed 10 different craft on Mars, but they all owe a bit of their success to Mars 3.

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SciShow has a spinoff podcast! It's called SciShow Tangents. Check it out at http://www.scishowtangents.org
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Support SciShow Space by becoming a patron on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/SciShowSpace
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Huge thanks go to the following Patreon supporter for helping us keep SciShow Space free for everyone forever: GrowingViolet



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Like SciShow? Want to help support us, and also get things to put on your walls, cover your torso and hold your liquids? Check out our awesome products over at DFTBA Records: http://dftba.com/scishow
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Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?
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Sources:

Sources:
https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1971-045A
https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1971-049A
https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1971-049F
https://www.planetary.org/space-missions/every-mars-mission
https://history.nasa.gov/monograph15.pdf
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-4419-8150-9_5

Image Sources

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/multimedia/videos/?v=458
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mars3_lander_vsm.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mars3_iki.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mars_propm_rover.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luna_9_Musee_du_Bourget_P1010505.JPG
https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/878/mars-reconnaissance-orbiter-aerobraking/?site=insight
https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/aviation-airplane-altimeter-gm639302892-115136369
https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/20201
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/multimedia/pia17447.html#.YJHT92ZKhTZ
https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/multimedia/raw-images/EAF_0002_0667110417_773ECV_N0010052EDLC00002_0010LUJ01
https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/20172/mars-exploration-rover-entry-descent-and-landing-on-mars/
[♪ INTRO]

Before every Mars landing there is a tense period of radio silence between the moment the space craft hurtles into the atmosphere and the moment it touches down. During what is now know as the seven minutes of terror, the spacecraft slows from several kilometers per second to a complete stop, all on its own.

These days scientists have the help of sophisticated computers, A.I., and fancy gadgets like self-piloting sky cranes. But back when scientists made the first successful landing on Mars, those minutes of silence were especially terrifying.

That first landing didn't earn a big place in history books and yet the strategy behind it paved the way for many truly historic missions to Mars. This was all back in May of 1971 when soviets launched the Mars 3 mission, which included a lander and an orbiter. It launched just days after its twin, Mars 2, and set off on the six month journey to Mars.

The plan was for the orbiters to take photos of the Martian surface from on high and return information about things like topography and magnetic fields. They'd also relay communications from the landers to earth. Meanwhile, the landers would take pictures from the surface, and measure properties like windspeed, air pressure, and temperature. They even contained an itty, bitty rover on skies that would study the soil.

That might all sound like a tall order, considering that at this point the Soviet Union hadn't even done a flyby of Mars. But they had done similar science on the moon, so these types of experiments weren't entirely new. 

The part that was new was the landing, and landing on Mars is not easy. The first problem is that its atmosphere is super thin. Spacecrafts are travelling several kilometers a second when they arrive, so they need to slow down a lot. But a parachute isn't that effective when it doesn't have a lot of air to grab onto. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is also still thick enough that the spacecraft will burn up if they're not carefully protected.

And the whole descent has to happen automatically, because a spacecraft gets all the way to the ground faster than a single signal can travel from earth. So it's all on its own. And if the slightest thing goes wrong, a Mars landing can be doomed. That's what happened to Mars 2. Mars 2 entered the atmosphere at too steep of an angle and plunged straight into the surface. But it did earn the honor of being the first spacecraft to reach the surface of Mars, technically.