Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe Mariner program saw many firsts for NASA. The first of many records was the first successful flyby of another planet by Mariner 2, first images returned from another planet, and the first spacecraft to visit Mercury during the Mariner 10 mission. These are just three of the many accomplishments made during the Mariner program. We would like to give you a basic rundown of the structure of a typical Mariner spacecraft and several interesting facts from the various missions, which will be followed by a set of links to different articles that we have written about the program.
The Mariner spacecraft were very simple by modern standards. They consisted of a hexagonal or octagonal central hub(similar to the Ranger lunar probe model), which housed all of the electronics. All external components were attached to this hub. Some of this equipment included antennae, cameras, propulsion, and power sources(solar panels). The first five missions launched atop Atlas-Agena rockets and the last five sat on top of Atlas-Centaurs. As you can see, these were very simplistic units, but were the height of technology at the time. It is amazing to see how far science has evolved in the 3 decades since Mariner 10 launched.
Now for some interesting facts from the Mariner missions.
Mariner 1 was the first spacecraft to be destroyed voluntarily by its ground crew. The rocket veered of course and was destroyed to prevent injuries.
Mariner 2 passed within 35,000 km of Venus on December 14, 1962. This flyby made it the first space probe to conduct a successful planetary encounter. The last transmission from Mariner 2 was received on January 3, 1963, making for a short mission duration. Despite not sending signals, the Mariner 2 spacecraft is thought to be in orbit around the Sun.
Mariner 3 was lost, but its sister craft Mariner 4 became the first spacecraft to successfully flyby Mars. Communication was lost shortly after the flyby when the craft was bombarded by micrometeorids.
Let’s skip a few, to Mariner 8 and 9. Mariner 8 was lost when the launch vehicle failed, but Mariner 9 successfully entered Martian orbit in November 1971. It became the first artificial satellite around Mars. It is still in orbit around the planet, but its orbit should decay and it will impact the surface in 2022.
Mariner 10 was the first spacecraft to flyby two planets and the first to use a gravity assist trajectory. The spacecraft used the gravity of Venus to change its velocity and trajectory so that it could flyby Mercury. It was the only craft to visit Mercury for over 30 years until the MESSENGER spacecraft made its first flyby.
Below are links to several articles that we have here on Universe Today about the Mariner program. Hopefully, you will find everything that you are looking for and, as always, enjoy your research.