A few years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, NASA had already reached for the stars. On November 28, 1964, the Mariner 4 was launched to Mars and eventually captured the first photographs of the Red Planet.
First photos from deep space
Mariner 4 was an ambitious project. After the previous spacecraft, Mariner 3, was a total loss, the Mariner 4 was sent to take photos and gather scientific data on the mysterious planet we knew as Mars.
It wasn’t until over seven months later on July 14, 1965 when Mariner 4 flew by Mars, making it the first spacecraft to do so. It also captured the first-ever photos of Mars and began transmitting the digital photos and data back to NASA. A total of 22 pictures were transmitted over six hours. They were sent twice to ensure the data was not corrupt.
End of the road
After successfully transmitting data to NASA for nearly a year, Mariner 4 lost contact with the Earth. It was over 300 million kilometers away from Earth, so scientists were not surprised when communication ceased.
Thankfully, the spacecraft had performed all of the tasks it’d been programmed to do. NASA had gathered all of the data that it needed from the mission.
Gone, but not forgotten
Although its mission was over, Mariner 4 was still functioning nearly three years later. NASA picked up data from the spacecraft on September 15, 1967. Being in deep space left the Mariner 4 vulnerable to micrometeroid showers, which were recorded and sent back to Earth.
On December 7th, Mariner 4’s gas supply was exhausted and NASA believed that its thermal shield had been damaged by the micrometeriod showers. On December 21, 1967, communications were ended with the Mariner 4. It’s still in orbit today, but has served its life as a NASA data transmitter.