Today in History – November 28, 1964 – Mariner 4, was launched and became the first successful mission to Mars. Reaching Mars on a flyby on July 14 and 15, 1965, it was the first spacecraft to return close-up images of the surface (center image above) and lasted three years in solar orbit. In Mariner 4′s 21 pictures, the images showed a planet that was barren and riddled with craters, contrary to the fanciful science fiction images of the Red Planet that portrayed it as inhabitable and full of life. Mariner 4 also carried instruments to study cosmic dust, solar plasma, radiation belts, and magnetic fields. Lessons learned from the Mariner 3 (which failed) and the Mariner 4 were vital for future unmanned space missions under NASA’s Mariner mission program to explore the inner solar system. The Mariner 10 (being assembled in right-most image above) was launched on November 1973 and during its two year mission transmitted over 12,ooo images of Mecury and Venus until March 1975.
Its interesting to view recent space exploration with that of Portuguese mariner and explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who reached the Pacific Ocean on this date centuries earlier in 1520. Magellan, with the crew of three ships, were the first documented Europeans to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It does make wonder whether exploration is a fundamental part of human destiny.