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NASA’s InSight landing bucks an expensive trend of probes smashing into Mars

WATCH ABOVE: More cheers erupted inside NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Monday as the InSight Lander sent back it's first images of the surface of the Red Planet, though the lens was obscured by dust.

Mars is a money-eater.

The planet swallowed up and destroyed 10 of 17 probes prior to InSight, yet scientists continue to send newer and more expensive robots its way every few years.

InSight successfully touched down on the surface on Monday.

READ MORE: NASA’s InSight probe lands on Mars to measure ‘marsquakes’

NASA scientists were extremely nervous ahead of landing their latest probe, InSight, on the Martian surface Monday, when they described the landing phase as “seven minutes of terror.”

The joint U.S.-European effort cost approximately US$1 billion, and a crash-landing would have made it one of the most expensive failed Mars missions in history.

WATCH BELOW: InSight lands on Mars

InSight probe successfully lands on the surface of Mars
InSight probe successfully lands on the surface of Mars

“We’ve had a number of successful landings in a row now. But you never know what Mars will throw at you,” said Rob Grover, lead engineer for the landing team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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WATCH BELOW: NASA launches InSight probe in May

NASA’s Mars InSight spacecraft launches for Mars
NASA’s Mars InSight spacecraft launches for Mars

Only about 40 per cent of all missions to Mars have succeeded. Many probes have been lost en route to the planet, in orbit or on their way down to the surface. Some have successfully landed, only to break down due to harsh conditions on the Martian surface.

“Going to Mars is really, really hard,” NASA’s top science mission official, Thomas Zurbechen, told reporters last week.

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Here are some of the many expensive robots humans have lost on Mars.

A multi-million-dollar math error

One of the dangers of running an inter-agency mission to Mars is that some countries (i.e. the United States) don’t use the same measurement system as others (i.e. the rest of the world).

NASA’s US$125 million Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere in 1999, due to what investigators later determined was a math error. Engineers failed to convert thrust measurements from the Imperial system, which is common in the U.S., to the international standard metric system.

The Mars Climate Orbiter, shown in this illustration, went into orbit around the red planet and became the first interplanetary weather satellite, and also a communications relay for the next lander mission to explore Mars.
The Mars Climate Orbiter, shown in this illustration, went into orbit around the red planet and became the first interplanetary weather satellite, and also a communications relay for the next lander mission to explore Mars. P Photo/NASA/JPL/Caltech

NASA also lost its Mars Polar Lander less than a month later. They estimated that vibrations in Mars’ atmosphere tricked the lander into deploying early, causing it to burn up.

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A series of Soviet failures

The Soviet Union’s Mars 2 spacecraft was the first human-made device to touch the Martian surface, but it wasn’t a gentle touch. The spacecraft is thought to have slammed into Mars due to an error in its landing trajectory on Nov. 27, 1971.

The Soviets followed up that mission by putting two more landers on Mars. The Mars 3 touched down on Dec. 2, 1971, and lost communication with Earth after only about 20 seconds. The Mars 6 lander touched down in 1973 and lasted a little more than three minutes before it, too, lost contact with Earth.

Lost Beagle

The U.K. Space Agency lost its Beagle 2 Mars lander on Dec. 25, 2003, when the craft dropped out of contact during landing.

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NASA’s high-resolution cameras found the lander in a heap on the Martian surface in 2015, 12 years after it disappeared.

The lander cost an estimated $120 million at the time it was built.

ESA mission craters

The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander left its mark on Mars in 2016, when it plowed into the surface at high speed.

WATCH BELOW: ESA control room reacts to attempted Mars landing

Inside the ESA control room as their Mars lander mission unfolds
Inside the ESA control room as their Mars lander mission unfolds

Photos taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed what appeared to be the impact crater.

The Schiarapelli lander was part of a larger mission dubbed ExoMars, which consists of two planned missions that each involve an orbiter and a lander. The first orbiter successfully deployed in 2016 but the lander was destroyed. The second mission is slated for 2020.

The overall cost of both projects was pegged at 1.3 billion Euros in 2008.

Improved track record

NASA successfully landed its last mission to the Martian surface, Curiosity, in 2012.

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WATCH BELOW: NASA’s Curiosity showing a new side of Mars

The United States is the only country to successfully operate a spacecraft on the Martian surface. InSight represents NASA’s ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars. Only one of those efforts failed.

—With files from Reuters and The Associated Press