Space History, August 9, 1973: Soviet Launch to Mars

Another “day in space history” tidbit: thirty-five years ago today, the Soviets launched Mars-7 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Proton rocket.

(When I was in the service, I monitored several technical exchanges between U.S. and Russian engineers getting ready to launch U.S. satellites on Proton rockets, something that would never have happened during the Cold War. And I watched the Canadian-owned [but U.S.-built] Nimiq-2 satellite get mated to a Proton rocket at Baikonur in 2002. I adapted some of what I saw during that operation into my story “The Rocket Seamstress.”)

According to, the Mars-7 probe was supposed to soft-land on Mars. As it happened,

Mars 7 reached Mars on 9 March 1974. Due to a problem in the operation of one of the onboard systems (attitude control or retro-rockets) the landing probe separated prematurely and missed the planet by 1,300 km. The early separation was probably due to a computer chip error which resulted in degradation of the systems during the trip to Mars.

Spaceflight is hard, no matter how much we’d like it to be easy.

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The Farmer in the (Martian) Dell

I like green beans, so I was pleased to learn that the soil on Mars could be good for growing green beans. The Mars Phoenix Lander found that the soil’s a bit alkaline, which according to Spaceflight Now (your source for agricultural information, at least when it’s extraterrestrial) is good for green beans, asparagus, and turnips.

If only I liked asparagus and turnips. But y’all can eat those, and I’ll eat the green beans, and we’ll all have a splendid time on Mars.

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Ice on Mars

Fascinating images from the Phoenix Mars Lander show what appear to be chunks of ice disappearing from a trench the lander dug. The full story, with a nice image that toggles in a “now you see it, now you don’t” fashion, is on Spaceflight Now.

Of course, we knew Mars had ice — we’ve seen its ice caps grow and recede. But it’ll be interesting to see if the lander can analyze some of it.

So, where do we sign up to go?

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Fingers Crossed

The Phoenix Lander is scheduled to land tonight on Mars. As of last night’s report on Spaceflight Now,

NASA’s Phoenix lander closed in on Mars Saturday, healthy and on course for touchdown Sunday evening near the red planet’s northern polar cap. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., decided to forego a course-correction rocket firing late Saturday but left open the option for a final trajectory tweak Sunday eight hours before atmospheric entry.

Here’s the link to the Mission Status Center.

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