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Meet the Very First Rover To Land On Mars

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the you-may-call-him-todd dept.

Mars 59

toygeek writes "Before Curiosity, before Opportunity, before Spirit, and before Sojourner, the very first robot to land on Mars was this little guy, way back in December of 1971. Called PrOP-M, the rover was part of the Soviet Union's Mars-3 mission, which had the potential to deploy the first ever mobile scientific instruments onto the Martian surface. Article also contains Russian video on early rovers."

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Dust storm? (2)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about 2 years ago | (#41162157)

Interesting; seems to have died in a dust storm. Did PrOP-M's sacrifice save the later landers from the same fate?

Re:Dust storm? (5, Informative)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#41162679)

seems to have died in a dust storm. Did PrOP-M's sacrifice save the later landers from the same fate?

The landers were not designed to "park" in orbit and had to land on a fixed schedule. Even if the dust storm was detected, nothing could be done. (US Mariner 9 orbiter arrived around the same time and had to wait months for that storm to clear before the surface was visible.)

Speculation is that once landed, dust storms tugged at the still-attached parachutes and yanked the Soviet landers over. This would explain the very short communication spans after landing.

Another speculation at the time was that they sank into quick-sand or quick-dust of some sort. Viking took that theory in hand and was designed to send back an image as soon as possible so that we could at least have one look. Viking's first image was of one of its footpads so if it was sinking, scientists could see the soil level above it in the (potentially final) image.

Vikings also had the ability to park in orbit so that the orbiters could check things out first. Whether this was done to avoid the fate of the Soviet landers or not, I can't say.

It paid off in that the original Viking 1 landing spot was discovered to be too risky using the orbiters' improved cameras. The planned Bicentennial (7/4/1976) landing was postponed because of it as a smoother spot was sought.

Not a rover (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162233)

This is a lander, but not a rover.

Re:Not a rover (2)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41162361)

Read the WHOLE article, stupid.

Re:Not a rover (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about 2 years ago | (#41164819)

Since it didn't actually rove...

Re:Not a rover (1)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about 2 years ago | (#41166253)

It contained a rover [] .

The article title says "First rover to land on Mars", not "First rover to rove on Mars". So, I guess it's accurate.


Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162261)

How else to keep it in place if not for wings ?? It's too big to ram it up inside so what if it has no wings ?? After market to the rescue !!


Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41171691)

My dick was too big to ram it up inside your mother's anus.

But it was a failure (2)

Megahard (1053072) | about 2 years ago | (#41162281)

Like the Mars Climate Orbiter was among the first weather stations to reach the surface of Mars.

A non-roving rover? (1)

Darth Muffin (781947) | about 2 years ago | (#41166543)

I would say that:
1. It's not a rover if it never moved, and
2. It was never deployed, so technically it was never on the surface of mars itself.

The Mars-3 probe did at least enough to count.

Probe (2, Informative)

mirix (1649853) | about 2 years ago | (#41162291)

Mars 3 was a probe, not a rover.

Soviets definitely got their probe on before the west, and probed repeatedly, both Mars and Venus.

The probes on Venus had really short lives, due to the inhospitable conditions.. lot of cash for a little bit of observations. (I think the longest living one made two hours? forget now).

Re:Probe (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#41162363)

Aren't they all (sattelites too) probes? I thought the difference was lander vs rover (vs orbiter).

Re:Probe (2)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#41162393)

Oh and now I RTFA and it turns out Mars-3 was actually all 3: an orbiter for communication, a stationary lander, and a tiny little rover that was tethered to the lander.

Re:Probe (2)

mirix (1649853) | about 2 years ago | (#41163579)

Yeah, I think rover should be independent - this is more of a movable sensor for the probe really, as opposed to some sort of autonomous rover... It doesn't need to carry it's own power source, or communications, etc.

lunokhod [] series was a real rover though, first, no less. I guess the progenitor of all of them.

There's a documentary called 'tank on the moon' about the development of them. It shows footage of them trying various mechanisms - some including this 'walker' style - but ultimately they went for wheels on them.

Re:Probe (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#41168287)

Yeah, I think rover should be independent - this is more of a movable sensor for the probe really, as opposed to some sort of autonomous rover... It doesn't need to carry it's own power source, or communications, etc.

And I don't see how using an external power source nullifies the principle aspect of a rover: That it roves.

The Sojourner rover never went more than 12m away from the lander. If the only way to accomplish the exact same mission was by having the lander provide power through a tether, then it wouldn't have counted? What if it received the power wirelessly?

Of course Sojourner wasn't autonomous anyway because it required the lander for communicating with earth. Which if autonomous communications are a requirement, then wouldn't that techincally make Mars-3 just an orbiter with a dropable-sensor?

Re:Probe (1)

AC-x (735297) | about 2 years ago | (#41163821)

Mars 3 was the complete mission, PrOP-M was the rover to be deployed by the lander (ala Pathfinder)

Re:Probe (1)

fuzzywig (208937) | about 2 years ago | (#41176095)

In the same way that Mars Science Laboratory is the entire mission, and Curiosity is the rover.

What incredible workmanship (0, Troll)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41162345)

Boy, the Soviet space program really operated on a shoestring and with limited underpaid talent, didn't it? My grandfather could have made that thing in his little machine shop at the back of their quarter-acre property. Actually, he would have produced something that looked and functioned far better than this clunky little thing [] (the U.S. military got a lot of WWII machined parts from him). Good grief, the cuts in the plates look jagged or uneven and I could swear some welds are visible. It looks like a hobbyist project. So I guess the Soviet space program was just a hobby for the Politburo....

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162469)

Their high end MIGS were made of wood.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41162887)


Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

baddcarma (320467) | about 2 years ago | (#41164019)

Their high end MIGS were made of wood.

Aside from WW2 planes and earlier, which of the high end MIGs were made of wood?

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 2 years ago | (#41169791)

were made of wood

If it weighs the same as a duck...

Re:What incredible workmanship (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162539)

It's a scientific probe. Science doesn't care if its tools have rounded edges or not.

I haven't seen the lander's schematics so I don't know if your grandfather could've built it in a cave with a box of scraps.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41162875)

I didn't mention rounded edges. Those probably DO "matter to science" - or at least the survival of the instruments to perform it - in some specific situations, but I didn't mention the lack of them.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | about 2 years ago | (#41171745)

rounded edges are the invention of apple, we just established that. sheesh.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41172745)

No doubt with apologies to all the furniture craftsmen who've been making furniture with radiused corners [] for... centuries?

Re:What incredible workmanship (2)

bsercombe72 (1822782) | about 2 years ago | (#41162611)

Who gives a rats how shitty it looked. What was important was that it achieved its goals. In terms of data acquisition probably not thanks to the weather, but in terms of proving that you could land something on mars to perform a task on a low budget the answer is a resounding yes. And that's valuable data in itself. You may recall that the soviets put a very successful rover on the moon as well...

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41162857)

It DIDN'T achieve its goals, possibly because the lander that was supposed to deliver it was constructed the same roughshod way.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#41169643)

Sorry, you don't know that, no one knows that.

Re:What incredible workmanship (5, Informative)

Formalin (1945560) | about 2 years ago | (#41163621)

Yeah, those rough edges surely impeded the Soviet progam...

1957: First satellite, Sputnik 1
1957: First animal to enter Earth orbit, the dog Laika on Sputnik 2
1959: First firing of a rocket in Earth orbit, first man-made object to escape Earth's orbit, Luna 1
1959: First data communications, or telemetry, to and from outer space, Luna 1.
1959: First man-made object to pass near the Moon, first artificial satellite in Solar orbit, Luna 1
1959: First probe to impact the Moon, Luna 2
1959: First images of the moon's far side, Luna 3
1960: First animals to safely return from Earth orbit, the dogs Belka and Strelka on Sputnik 5.
1960: First probe launched to Mars, Marsnik 1 (failed to reach target)
1961: First probe launched to Venus, Venera 1
1961: First person in space (International definition) and in Earth orbit, Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1, Vostok programme
1961: First person to spend over a day in space Gherman Titov, Vostok 2 (also first person to sleep in space).
1962: First dual crewed spaceflight, Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
1963: First woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, Vostok 6
1964: First multi-person crew (3), Voskhod 1
1965: First EVA, by Aleksei Leonov, Voskhod 2
1965: First probe to hit another planet (Venus), Venera 3
1966: First probe to make a soft landing on and transmit from the surface of the moon, Luna 9
1966: First probe in lunar orbit, Luna 10
1967: First automated, crewless rendezvous and docking, Cosmos 186/Cosmos 188. (Until 2006, this had remained the only major space achievement that the US had not duplicated.)
1969: First docking between two crewed crafts in Earth orbit and exchange of crews, Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5

Re:What incredible workmanship (1, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41163841)

And how many other projects failed for poor workmanship or planning? I never said it impeded the overall Soviet space program; that is your own inflation of what I said. I simply noted that it was poor craftsmanship. What you've failed to grasp is that the Soviets managed their space program the same way they managed their military assets in World War II: they relied on quantity to carry the day; three T-34s for every one higher quality Panther or Tiger. For every successful mission you list above, there were quiet failures. Unlike NASA, the Soviets were prepared to take losses in stride.

Re:What incredible workmanship (3, Informative)

Tore S B (711705) | about 2 years ago | (#41165551)

Actually, that's more or less something of a myth. If you look at the delay taken after a failed manned mission, for instance, the Soviets would take significantly longer time to look over their mistakes than the US would.

There were certainly quiet failures, but those have come out into the open by now. After the fall of the iron curtain and the declassification of Soviet space information, there was no discovery of any body of fatal accidents so massive that they indicate that the Soviet Union took, as you put it "losses in stride" to any greater extent than the United States did.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#41175467)

Of course they tried to learn from the failures. The difference is that they didn't obsess and over-engineer in the first place like NASA; they simply couldn't afford it, didn't have the resources, as this little rover demonstrates rather clearly. They satisfied some minimum standard, and then if/when that failed them they learned from it how the minimum standard needed to be revised for the next time... because for them there always was a next time. That is very different from how NASA has operated. I'm an unwilling perfectionist myself, so my natural tendency is to approach things like NASA, get it perfect the first time. Seeing this rover was an "offense" to the way I'm compelled to do things, but I understand why it was done that way. Not everyone is or can afford to be a perfectionist. Some people don't have a choice afford it or not, but that's another story.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

I Am JAFI (1221884) | about 2 years ago | (#41167629)

But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, viniculture, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Russians ever done for us?

Re:What incredible workmanship (2)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 2 years ago | (#41167661)

All true but let's take a closer look at comparable Soviet and American missions -- Luna 9 and Surveyor 1, the first soft landers on the moon by the respective programs. Luna 9 -- landed Feb 3, 1966, transmitted three series of TV pictures over an 8 hour period. The last contact with the spacecraft was made on Feb 6, three days after landing. Surveyor 1 -- landed June 2, 1966, transmitted over 11,000 photos from the lunar surface, including wide-angle and narrow-angle panoramas, focus ranging surveys, photometric surveys, special area surveys, and celestial photography. Surveyor 1 continued from to return engineering data for over 7 months (until Jan 7, 1967) with interruptions during the two week lunar nights (the spacecraft was solar powered), but it survived the nights and began operations again when the sun powered it up. 3 days of lunar operations by Luna 9 vs 7 months by Surveyor 1 -- Luna 9 was an achievement, no question, but Surveyor 1 was a considerably more capable device. And Surveyor 1 was followed by Surveyors 3, 5, 6, and 7 with similar performances. A similar comparison can be made between the Soviet Mars 3 lander and the American Viking 1 lander on Mars. (statistics above taken from the Wikipedia pages).

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

Walterk (124748) | about 2 years ago | (#41167709)

Yes, but aside from all that, what did the Soviets ever do for us?

Re:What incredible workmanship (2)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 2 years ago | (#41164453)

I always thought the Soviet Lunokhod moon rovers were pretty impressive achievements. I believe that Lunokhod 2 still holds the record for the longest distance traveled by any non terrestrial rover. Both were launched in the early 1970's. Of course such technological achievements were over shadowed by the US astronaut missions.

Re:What incredible workmanship (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41165045)

It still does, but just barely now. Lunokhod 2 managed 37km in its 4-5 month life span, Opportunity has gone 35km in 8.5 years. However, second place belongs to the Apollo 17 rover, at 36 km, which was done in 2 days.

Skis vs Wheels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162387)

Was just curious, can any engineer explain to me their choice of skis against wheels for this little guy?

Re:Skis vs Wheels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162613)

skis = no moving parts to fail, wear out, break. High reliability.
wheels = moving parts to break, lubrication to wear out or get dust in the bearings and freeze.

the only problem with skis is the amount of power needed vs. wheels.

It's always about compromise.

Re:Skis vs Wheels? (1)

marka63 (1237718) | about 2 years ago | (#41163143)

The skis still have moving parts. They need to be lifted up and put down. For a robot like this, no moving parts means no movement at all.

Now there are transport systems with no moving parts but they use linear accelerators.

Very Late-Breaking News: Forgotten Victory (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162471)

Friends, Podmates, and fellow Citizens, lend me your auditory input channels: Our operatives on the blue world share with you the following excerpt from TFA [] :

"Or there's always the angry Martians hypothesis."

Fear not, for the battle continues, but know, o ye Citizens, how far we have fallen. Back in my day, when I was but a podling barely capable of any form of speech, let alone speaking on behalf of my fellow podmates, "twenty seconds to comply" wasn't just a good idea, it was the law.

When a retired news reporter suggested that maybe the Blue World had temporarily overestimated its engineering capabilities and had compounded this miscalculation by dropping the primitive contraption into a middle of an electrically-active dust storm, the Speaker's podseniors had the retired reporter's gelsacs affixed to his belt, which was the fashion at the time.

Close but no cigar (0)

Grayhand (2610049) | about 2 years ago | (#41162561)

The early Russian space program treated Mars as more of a target than a destination. They were a volume business and yes they aimed a probe at Mars but there was a low probability of it surviving. I'm old enough to remember the probe impacting. I thought it was a testament to how hard it was to land a probe on Mars. The truth is they were more obsessed with the attempt than the success. You've got to remember that here we are 40 years later and the Russians have yet to land a man on the Moon. They've had lots of success with orbiting the Earth because it's easier and cheaper and they played the odds. The US was more cautious in the early days allowing the Russians to get the upper hand but we have largely ruled ever since. Obviously Mir was more successful than Skylab but once again it was because they took more risks and a low tech approach.

Re:Close but no cigar (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162771)

You've got to remember that here we are 40 years later and the Russians have yet to land a man on the Moon.

You make it sound as though it has been a Russian initiative for 50 years to land a cosmonaut on the Moon, but it only was so from 1961-1974. After 74, there was no such initiative for a manned lunar landing, so here we are 40 years later and for the last 38 of them the Russian's haven't been trying. You'd be just as correct to say that for the last 40 years the US had been unable to land a man on the Moon. So let's not overplay Russian space failures and US successes... (after all, the US has killed far more astronauts with its program than the Russians). Instead let's celebrate the successful cooperation the US and Russians have had in space.

Hoover called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162569)

they want to know if anyone knowns where one if it's missing "vacuum" cleaners went.

Russian scientist on rover team: "it works in (using) a vacuum".

Re:Hoover called... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163003)

That joke sucked.

Re:Hoover called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41169525)

Maybe you can vacuum that apostrophe out of your possessive pronoun?

Google "Tank on the Moon" (2)

slincolne (1111555) | about 2 years ago | (#41162633)

Great documentory on the Russian initiatives for remote operated vehicles - very clever stuff !

They sent a boom box to Mars! (1)

kawabago (551139) | about 2 years ago | (#41162903)

They played music on Mars today. With no one there to hear it, was there any sound?

Re:They sent a boom box to Mars! (1)

petsounds (593538) | about 2 years ago | (#41163273)

No they didn't. They beamed an audio file down to the rover, which then sent it back, in the same way they sent NASA Administrator Bolden's message. There are no speakers, and sadly no microphone on Curiosity. This was purely a PR stunt and dick-waving move for Bolden.

Re:They sent a boom box to Mars! (1)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 years ago | (#41167459)

You don't need speakers, you could play the sound on the motors powering the rover's wheels :-)

Re:They sent a boom box to Mars! (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 2 years ago | (#41164815)

Is that what that noise was? It sounded like a leper who hadn't had a drink in a while as they were staked to the ground in Death Valley.

My cat sounds better than whatever that "music" was.

Prop m (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 2 years ago | (#41163123)

With a code name like Prop M, it is no wonder people thought the moon landings happened in a Hollywood stage somewhere. I mean, Prop is what they call the set items used to give realistic effects to the stage and for helping tell stories, and of course M just seems like a catalog number.

Seriously, if i heard of a mars lander being called a prop, I might suspect some of the extremely extraordinary accomplishments too.

Re:Prop m (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163973)

Yeah, except the SU is quite unlike North Korea with respect to boasting about their successful missions. They actually did it.

40 years? And I should be enthusiastic? (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 2 years ago | (#41164301)

When I say that Mars rovers are things that could have been done with Cold War technologies, I pass for a boring unenthusiastic guy. But the thing is, we have been there, we have done that. When will we send an autonomous robot on Mars? Or one that can build stuff there? Or one that can dig deep enough to get to the water that we know [] is there, thanks to a high-tech spectrometer that scanned underground resources from orbit. Now that's a new piece of impressive tech that no one talks about.

How about trying to analyze and test filtering and electrolyse ice water that we know exist because we have pictures of it [] ? But forget about it. Yay remote controlled cars!

Re:40 years? And I should be enthusiastic? (1)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#41169985)

Why would anyone want to electrolyse water on Mars? Do you expect it to electrolyse in any other fashion than here on Earth, except costing 8 orders of magnitude more? Water is per se useless for a robotic mission, if we know it's there from orbiter imagery you don't need to send a rover to confirm, duh. The only useful thing would be to sample it and see if there are any microorganisms there. No electrolysis involved. Test filtering?! You can test filtering it here on Earth just fine.

As for cold war technologies for Mars rovers: sorry but no. Rovers depend on high capacity computing, storage and imaging -- things that most definitely did not exist back in the 70s or even 80s. There was no megapixel+ image sensors like on Curiosity's cameras, no gigabyte memory buffers for those, definitely no rad-hardened computers capable enough to pull off the radar terrain recognition to target the landing zone, etc. Heck, in the early 80s there were not even COTS single-chip CPUs that could do what Curiosity's landing called for, never mind rad-hard.

Well, "impact". It never actually did anything (1)

Dr. Crash (237179) | about 2 years ago | (#41164787)

The PROP-M carrier vehicle made it down- but failed after 20
seconds. If the rover even deployed, we never knew it, and
we definitely never actually got data back.

You know you use Facebook too much when... (1)

fieldstone (985598) | about 2 years ago | (#41166049)

I was actually hoping to find out that there had been a "manned" mission to mars using a dog, complete with cute puppy pictures. God help me... social media has infected my brain.

Great OP! (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 2 years ago | (#41167087)

Wow, I just want to say, this is the first OP in a while that is actually news to me! Great post! Especially, I prior had no idea that NSSDC exists! Cool beans!

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