Mariner 3 & 4
Between 1962 and 1973, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed and built 10 spacecraft named Mariner to explore the inner solar system -- visiting the planets Venus, Mars and Mercury for the first time, and returning to Venus and Mars for additional close observations. The Mariners were all relatively small robotic explorers, each launched on an Atlas rocket with either an Agena or Centaur upper-stage booster, and weighing less than half a ton (without onboard rocket propellant).
Mariner 3 and 4 were identical spacecraft designed to carry out the first flybys of Mars. Mariner 3 was launched on November 5, 1964, but the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed to open properly, and Mariner 3 did not get to Mars. Three weeks later, on November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 was launched successfully on an eight-month voyage to the red planet.
The spacecraft flew past Mars on July 14, 1965, collecting the first close-up photographs of another planet. The pictures, played back from a small tape recorder over a long period, showed lunar-type impact craters (just beginning to be photographed at close range from the Moon), some of them touched with frost in the chill Martian evening. The Mariner 4 spacecraft was not expected to survive much longer than the eight months to its Mars flyby encounter, but actually lasted about three years in solar orbit, continuing long-term studies of the solar wind environment and making coordinated measurements with Mariner 5, a sister ship launched to Venus in 1967.
- Straight outta NASA... Credit: JPL