50 years ago, Mariner 4 sent back first pictures from Mars

Excerpt from the July 10, 1965 issue of Science News Letter

inset of Mars from Mariner, Curiosity selfie

THEN AND NOW  The first fuzzy image of Mars (inset) from Mariner 4 in 1965 showed hints of clouds. This year, the Curiosity rover snapped a selfie while exploring Gale Crater.

JPL-Caltech/NASA, MSSS; inset: JPL-Caltech/NASA

Earth to Mars in 229 days — The longest recorded journey in the history of man will reach its goal on Wednesday, July 14 — and keep on going. The Mariner 4 spacecraft … will have covered more than 325 million miles in order to take a few television pictures and transmit some experimental radio signals. Together, these two activities should add a great deal to man’s sketchy knowledge of the planet Mars… Despite equipment failures, meteor showers, solar flares, and perhaps even “little green men,” Mariner seems to be doing just fine. — Science News Letter, July 10, 1965


Mariner 4 buzzed Mars right on schedule, sending back the first up-close pictures of another planet. The grainy images showed a desiccated, moonlike surface lacking in little green men. Since that first visit, 19 additional probes have flown past, orbited or landed on the Red Planet. Even more Mars probes — 25 — have failed. More recent missions have revealed that Mars was once warm and wet. Today there are seven active missions on or above our planetary neighbor.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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