This official NASA history document - converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction - is a fascinating account by the leading designer for Mars and Venus spacecraft in the Soviet Union during the early days of Mars exploration, V.G. Perminov, at a time when many missions to the Red Planet were abject failures.
Here, he recounts the hectic days and urgent atmosphere in the Communist bureaucracy to design and successfully launch a Mars orbiter, a Mars lander, and a Mars rover. The goal was to beat the United States to Mars. The author's account gives, for the first time, the personal feelings of those managing the projects. The first project was begun in 1959. During the next 15 years, the United States had put humans on the Moon, and the Soviet Union had put a cosmonaut in space and circled the Moon with a satellite. However, sending a spacecraft to a distant planet and having it enter an unknown atmosphere and land on a poorly known surface was an undertaking of a different magnitude. There were many lessons to be learned and many expensive failures. But with each new failure, new experience was gained, and with each successive attempt, the goal was closer.
In October 1960, with Project 1M, two spacecraft were launched, but the third stages of each rocket failed. In November 1962, the spacecraft Mars 1 was launched, but it fell silent at a distance of 106 million kilometers.
In March-April 1969, with Project M-69, there was an attempt to launch two spacecraft, but both failed on launch. In May 1971, with Project M-71, two spacecraft, Mars 2 and Mars 3, each with a lander, were launched. The lander for Mars 2 crashed on the surface of Mars. The lander of Mars 3 reached the surface, but its transmissions soon disappeared. However, the orbiters of Mars 2 and Mars 3 continued circling the planet for 8 months sending images to Earth.
In June 1973, Mars 4 and Mars 5 were launched. On Mars 4, the braking system failed, it therefore missed the planet. Mars 5 took images of Mars on a flyby. In August 1973, Mars 6 and Mars 7 were launched. Mars 6 was unable to receive commands after 2 months but, surprisingly, continued in an autonomous mode for another 5 months after landing on the Martian surface and sending back data. Mars 7 missed the planet.
During the mid-1970's, there were attempts to develop a program to return Martian soil to Earth. That program proved to be impractical.
In July 1988, the spacecraft Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 were launched to explore the Martian moon Phobos. Phobos 1 did not reach its destination. Phobos 2 successfully entered the Martian orbit, but at 150 kilometers from Phobos, it lost solar power and became silent. In November 1996, the spacecraft Mars 96, with an orbiter, four landers, and 22 scientific instruments, was launched. Because of onboard computer and upper-stage booster malfunctions, the Mars 96 spacecraft failed. This is the last spacecraft reported by the author. In spite of numerous failures, the technical and scientific achievements during the Mars exploration effort were invaluable. The scientific results are broadly discussed in western literature, and technical knowledge has been advanced.