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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Why Is It So Hard to Land On Mars?

•, By Rebecca Boyle
 Mars is not a friendly place. It’s freezing, windy, barren, and quiet except for howling dust storms that can threaten hopeful visitors. The planet is kind of a jerk, really, presenting vindictive obstacles to thwart the robotic explorers sent toward it for the past 47 years. And Mars usually wins.

In the decades since humans started sending spacecraft to Mars, the Red Planet has outscored us handily; humans have only about a .411 batting average overall -- not great for missions that cost billions of dollars and countless time to build. Seventeen landers have been sent, and just seven made it to the surface safely, each of them with varying degrees of success. NASA is attempting the most complicated mission ever with its new Mars rover Curiosity, which will ring in Attempt No. 18. The rocky history of Mars explorers is weighing on managers’ minds, and not just because of Curiosity’s intense autonomous landing.

“Is it crazy? Well, not so much — once you understand it, it’s not so crazy. Is it risky? Landing on Mars is always risky,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters. “Mars throws things at you. Dust storms, atmospheric density, wind.”

Landing something on another world, anything at all, is very difficult to do, especially when the place is very far away and so inordinately inhospitable. Past landing attempts are proof of this.

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