Our history of efforts with Martian spaceships is fraught with failure. Many of our spacecraft either are lost in flight, or have crashed into the Red Planet. Many of the missions that have survived the perils of intra-solar-system travel have been short lived. That is not the case any longer.
In what may very well be the single most successful and fruitful unmanned mission in the history of humanity, the two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are still kicking and rolling around the surface of mars, after FIVE YEARS! They have survived the harsh Martian winter 5 times, due to excellent engineering, painstaking construction, and inventive operations by the crews in charge of actually driving and programming the Rovers.
This is an amazing achievement, and one which is not being given enough praise in the regular news media, other than as a curiosity. -FUPPETS- is fucking amped up about this shit, you can be sure.
There have been mechanical issues, and one of the rovers is operating with just 4 of it's original 6 wheels, but the biggest issue the rovers have faced is one of dust. The Martian dust is very fine and covers the solar energy panels with a fine layer which obstructs the solar energy the rovers are dependent on. Below is an image of Spirit on it's one-year anniversary. You can see the layer of dust on it's solar panels.
On the Moon, this would be fatal, but on Mars, which does have a tenuous atmosphere, occasional wind storms actually serve to clean off this dust! This was a purely lucky occurrence which the NASA scientists were overjoyed at experiencing. Without these random dust storms the rovers would have died a long time ago. At one point, Spirit was operating at less than 60% of the energy it normally needed, when, in a completely unexpected surprise, the power capabilities jumped to over 93%! Once the scientists had gotten over their joy they realized that a "dust devil" had miraculously swept across the Spirit Rover, and cleaned off much of the Martian dirt from the solar panels. Incredible. This has happened repeatedly for both Rovers and is the main reason they are still going today. Below is an image of Spirit, 6 months after the above image, with it's solar panels clean.
Here is a Martian "dust devil" photographed by Spirit.
Human ingenuity and skill and intelligence fucking rules all. Here's hoping the Mars Rovers continue in their mission. When you look to the sky at night, take the time to ponder about these extensions of our humanity that are out in the bitter cold of a foreign planet, doing the dirty work that humans need done so as to allow our species to spread and prosper throughout the Solar System, as we need to do, for we are explorers first and foremost.