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Mariner 4

July 13, 2015

If everything’s working as planned, a NASA spacecraft is rapidly closing in on one of the worlds of the solar system: Pluto. New Horizons is set to speed past the icy world tomorrow. That’s the 50th anniversary of the first encounter with another icy world: the planet Mars.

AUDIO: July 14th: Encounter Day. 15,000 miles from Mars now. 22 minutes until the first picture...

And as this NASA documentary suggests, just like now it was a time of high excitement. Mariner 4 was scheduled to fly past Mars, snapping pictures of the Red Planet along the way. And just what it would see was anyone’s guess. Scientists had ruled out the possibility of canals on Mars — the remnants of an ancient civilization — but some expected to see a world that in some ways resembled Earth.

AUDIO: The camera sensor now sees the planet Mars.

Mariner 4 was the second of a pair of Mars-bound spacecraft. Its twin, Mariner 3, failed at launch. But Mariner 4 was right on target.

On July 14th, 1965, it recorded 22 pictures of Mars. It also measured the Martian atmosphere, and hunted for a magnetic field.

The pictures confirmed some ideas about Mars, but they also delivered some big surprises. We’ll have more about that tomorrow.

AUDIO: The mission to Mars. Conceived by men who refused to be Earthbound. An extraordinary voyage by an exceptional spacecraft: Mariner 4.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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