Picture of the Day: Mariner 4's First Close-Range Image of Mars


The image displayed above is the first look at Mars that television watchers around the world were able to glimpse. But it's not a traditional photograph. Too anxious to wait for the official processed images from the Mariner 4 in 1965, employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory assembled the thin strips printed by a "real-time data translator" machine and hand colored them as though they were a paint-by-numbers picture.

Mariner 4 had been launched into space on November 28, 1964, and reached the Red Planet 228 days later, at which point it started transmitting this data back to the Voyager Telecommunications Section team. This, the first close-range image of Mars ever captured, was framed and presented to William H. Pickering, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's director at the time.

"The spacecraft carried a television camera and six other science instruments to study the Martian atmosphere and surface," according to NASA, which recently featured this image on its website. "The 22 photographs taken by Mariner revealed the existence of lunar type craters upon a desert-like surface. After completing its mission, Mariner 4 continued past Mars to the far side of the Sun. On December 20, 1967, all operations of the spacecraft were ended."

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Image: NASA.