What Space Data Looked Like in 1962

Fifty years ago, we recorded the learnings of our space explorers with paper scrolls.

[optional image description]
(NASA/JPL)

Throughout most of human history, humans knew Venus as "the brightest star in the sky." Fifty years ago, however -- December 14, 1962 -- humanity got to know our neighbor planet in a wonderfully new way: up close and personal. On that day, NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft sailed by Venus, at a range of 21,600 miles, scanning its atmosphere and surface for a full 42 minutes. It was the first time any spacecraft had ever successfully made a close-up study of another planet. 

The result, here on Earth, was data. Much, much data. Data that disproved, among other things, a popular theory: that Venus was, as a planet, very much like Earth. Mariner 2's readings showed instead that the surface temperature on Venus was a very un-balmy 797°F on both the day and night sides -- hot enough to melt lead. They also demonstrated that Venus rotates in the opposite direction from most other planets in our solar system; that it has an atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide, with very high pressure at its surface; that it features a continuous cloud cover; and that it has no detectable magnetic field. Mariner 2 also discovered new information about interplanetary space -- learning that, among other things, the solar wind streams continuously, and that the density of cosmic dust between planets is much lower than it is near Earth.

So what did all that information look like, actually? There's the billboard of data, for one thing -- painted on, apparently and tellingly, wood -- in the image above. But there's also that unfurled scroll of paper -- a paper towel roll, essentially, full of information about our neighbor planet. Which brings us, finally, to this -- the larger image of the shot above:

venus_data-browse.jpeg

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

Just In