I know that Curiosity has landed on Mars, and that’s awesome. Believe me, I follow the Twitter feed, I texted a pile of people when it landed, all that stuff. It’s fantastic. I think that robotic probes are the best route for useful space exploration, and Curiosity is a fantastic robot on a fantastic mission.
That said, you need to look at and absorb this infographic detailing past missions to Mars. (I have a printout of this up in my cubicle at work.) It’s not by me — it’s from Bryan Christie Design. But it’s important.
Here’s the key bit: The first successful mission to Mars was the Mariner 4 flyby, in 1964. Two more flybys, Mariner 6 and Mariner 7, occurred in 1969. Then Mars 3 left an orbiter behind and successfully landed on the surface of Mars for the first time, sending back the first images of Mars taken from the surface in 1971 — a year before I was born, and decades before many of you were a twinkle in your parents’ eyes. A raft of other successes soon followed, including landers in 1973 and (Mars 6), 1975 (Viking 1 and Viking 2), and then, after a long gap, the first rover — the Mars Pathfinder rover in 1996 (16 years ago), followed up by two more rovers — Spirit and Opportunity — in 2003 (9 years ago), and a lander called Phoenix in 2007.
Many (all?) of these landers and rovers have sent back stunning images from the surface of Mars, alongside their primary scientific missions.
Why the long story? Because if I see one more person reblog a photo (especially one taken by a previous lander or rover) of the surface of Mars with the caption, “THIS IS WHAT THE SURFACE OF MARS LOOKS LIKE! WE DIDN’T KNOW THIS YESTERDAY!”, my head is going to explode. And that would suck.