Suspension of Disbelief: The History of Mars Rovers and Landers

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Suspension of Disbelief: The History of Mars Rovers and Landers

Science fiction has a plethora of ideas about what happened in the past and what to expect from the future. Unfortunately, not all of those ideas are exactly plausible in reality. In Suspension of Disbelief, we’ll take a look at the best ideas from sci-fi movies, books, comics and videogames to see where (and if) they intersect with the real world.


At this point, movies about traveling to and/or from Mars don’t have to add too much fiction to their science in order to make their plots work. For example, everything in The Martian is relatively sound scientifically and could exist within our lifetimes (2035 is a bit generous, though). Mars is the next great frontier for human exploration and a real possibility for the space programs of countries around the world and private space companies looking to get in on the ground floor of a burgeoning market.

But we have already been exploring Mars for more than 45 years. Though the major objective of the Space Race was landing a person on the Moon, the USSR and USA also battled for other firsts in space, including the first to explore Mars. Nineteen spacecraft have been sent through the Solar System and down to the surface of red planet from the United States, Russia, and Europe, and each one was a massive undertaking. Just to demonstrate how difficult it is to get a piece of equipment to the surface of Mars in working order, note that only eight of those nineteen attempts has been successful. The others weren’t able to leave Earth’s orbit, crashed onto the surface of Mars, or weren’t functional after they did land. Using explosives to throw a dart at a bullseye 33 million miles away and then have it take pictures when it gets there isn’t an easy feat.

Click through the gallery to see the history of humanity’s success and failures on the red planet.

Based in New York City, Cameron Wade is a freelance writer interested in movies, videogames, comic books and more. You can find more of his thoughts and ramblings at