Follow this link to skip to the main content National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
NASA Banner
NASA Mars Exploration Program
Mars Exploration Program
Home

1965: Discovery at Mars

Thursday, July 16, 2015, 7 p.m. PT (10 p.m. ET, 0200 UTC)

July 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Mariner 4, the first spacecraft to successfully fly by the planet Mars. Scientists were surprised by what the first images revealed, a theme that has continued through a half century of exploring the Red Planet. Join us to celebrate a half century of Mars exploration with a screening of "The Changing Face of Mars" with introductory remarks by its producer/director/writer, Blaine Baggett, Director, Office of Communication and Education, JPL.

50th Annniversary of Mars Exploration


July 15, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of Mars exploration.

On this day 50 years ago, we arrived at the Red Planet with the Mariner 4 spacecraft, our first mission to Mars.

NASA's New Horizon spacecraft flew by Pluto -- exactly 50 years after Mariner 4's first-ever close-up pictures of Mars.

Mars Mariner Mural

Six Ways Opportunity is like a Teenager

Explore NASA's Mars Map

Mars@50 Those Were the Days...


When you have been exploring a planet for 50 years, you should expect a few changes! Our tools and techniques for exploring Mars have improved, from the first grainy black-and-white images taken by telescopes on Earth, to full-color panoramas taken by rovers on the martian surface. Use the slider below to see a few examples of how times have changed.


Martian Mosaics before Martian Mosaics after

Martian Mosaics

When twin spacecraft Mariner 6 and 7 sent back wide-angle images of Mars, scientists glued them on a globe already containing an indistinct, Earth-based view of Mars. Today, we leave the cutting and pasting to software programs that seamlessly stitch together to create mosaics of Mars.


See More Revealing Mars History >>

History of Mars Orbiter Mariner 4 Slideshow


Perfect Day for a Launch

Perfect Day for a Launch 

On November 28, 1964, the Mariner 4 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, bound for Mars. Tension was high: twenty-three days earlier, NASA lost Mariner 4’s sister spacecraft when the shroud encasing it on top of the rocket did not open.
1 / 11
Mariner 4 Makes History

Mariner 4 Makes History 

Mariner 4 was one of 10 spacecraft named Mariner sent to study Venus, Mercury and Mars between 1960 and 1973. In those days, failure was all too common, with Mariners 1, 3 and 8 lost before they reached deep space.
2 / 11
Did Mars Have Life?

Did Mars Have Life? 

With the first camera to return digital images from Mars, scientists hoped Mariner 4 would answer questions about the possibility of life on Mars. Before then, scientists only viewed Mars through Earth-based telescopes, which provided few details about the intriguing surface features long observed by astronomers.
3 / 11
Tools to Study Mars and Deep Space

Tools to Study Mars and Deep Space 

Mariner 4 carried experiments to study the magnetic field around Mars and cosmic rays and plasma in space. A new camera digitized the images to be sent back to Earth. This image shows Mariner 4 during a weight test in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
4 / 11
Fun in the Sun

Fun in the Sun 

In this unusual outdoor setting outside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, engineers tested Mariner 4’s solar panels in a large plastic tent. After they completed their tests, engineers disassembled the spacecraft, carefully packed it, and loaded it on moving vans for a trip across the country to the Florida launch site.
5 / 11
A Flawless Launch and Cruise

A Flawless Launch and Cruise 

Launched on an Atlas rocket with an Agena upper stage that could reach speeds of 25,000 miles per hour, Mariner 4 was began an 8-month journey to Mars.
6 / 11
Tracking the Spacecraft

Tracking the Spacecraft 

Engineers spent a few anxious nights at the Goldstone Tracking Station in California, as they kept an eye on Mariner 4. Seven days after launch, Mariner needed only one engine "burn" to to enable it to fly within a few thousand miles of the martian surface.
7 / 11
Surprises on the Surface and in the Atmosphere

Surprises on the Surface and in the Atmosphere 

Mariner 4 zoomed past Mars on July 15, 1965 and captured 22 images of the surface. At 8 bits per second, each image took 8 hours to download, teaching scientists and the press on Earth the meaning of patience! The spacecraft did not detect a global magnetic field around Mars, meaning the surface was not protected from high-energy solar radiation hazardous to life.
8 / 11
Mars is Dead Like the Moon?

Mars is Dead Like the Moon? 

Mariner 4 images revealed a heavily cratered planet, similar to Earth’s lifeless Moon.
This news devastated people who thought Mars might harbor life.
9 / 11
Where is the Air?

Where is the Air? 

As Mariner 4 flew ‘behind’ Mars, engineers measured the density of the atmosphere by noting how radio signals changed when sent through it back to Earth. They learned that the atmosphere was too thin to support living things.
10 / 11
Blazing a Trail for the Future

Blazing a Trail for the Future 

Mariner 4’s data on the thin atmosphere, lack of a magnetic field, and cratered surface dashed the hopes of those who thought they'd see signs of life on Mars. However, the success of the Mariner 4 mission renewed our belief that planetary exploration was possible. It blazed a trail for many later missions to Mars, our current search for signs of life, and future human exploration.
11 / 11

Mariner 4 Retro Historical Video Clips




USA.gov
PRIVACY     FAQ     SITEMAP     IMAGE POLICY     FEEDBACK