It hasn’t escaped notice that the Russians (with a Chinese probe) tried sending a mission to Mars, Fobos-Grunt-Yinghuo, which spluttered into low Earth orbit and presumably will fall back to Earth. Meanwhile, NASA the U.S. space agency lofted another Mars mission, MSL Curiosity, that is happily on its way to the Red Planet.
If this had happened, say, thirty years ago; it would have been an occasion for great nationalistic clucking and crowing. These days, people notice the irony, perhaps. More likely, with the tightening of budgets for space everywhere, the loss of any major expedition is viewed with dismay.
Mars is a difficult target. More than one-half of the missions have failed, some like the recent Russian Fobos-Grunt project fail even before leaving Earth orbit. Others, such as the NASA Mars Polar Lander crashed into the Martian surface. It’s known as the Mars Curse, but in truth it’s the complexity of the journey and the various requirements of landing on a major planet that demand near perfection in every detail, which is difficult to achieve.
Mars is often cited as the most important destination for human space exploration. Conceptually, this is certainly so; Mars has more to offer humanity – including possible colonization – than any other planet or moon. However, Mars Curse or not, it’s clear that Mars is logistically very difficult – beyond our means (money and technology) at least for the time being. What I just wrote can be vociferously disputed, but I wouldn’t take any bets on a manned Mars mission happening within two decades.