The Soviets' Rocky Road to Mars

Planetary missions are difficult. Of a total of 51 missions launched between 1960 and today (2023-08-24), only 17 (33%) were completely successful and 9 (18%) partially successful (a partial success may be, for example, a mission whose whose orbiter succeeds but lander fails). NASA has been, by far, the most successful in exploring Mars, with 18 successes (including missions still in progress) out of 23 attempts (78%). The Soviet Union and Russia have had the most difficult time reaching Mars. Together they have launched a total of 20 spacecraft to Mars (17 USSR, 3 Russia) with only a single complete mission success and 7 partial successes.

Many of the Soviet/Russian failures got nowhere near Mars: the list of Mars-bound spacecraft that never reached Earth orbit or were stranded there by booster and upper stage failures is long and dismal. Other missions were undone due to the Soviets’ problems in building electronics that could operate reliably for the long duration of a trip to Mars.

Here is the current scoreboard of Mars missions from the Wikipedia page “List of missions to Mars”:


The Soviets have had far more success in missions to Venus. See “Soviet Venus Lander Missions” posted here on 2022-07-23.