JPL and the Space Age: The Changing Face of Mars (NASA Documentary)

Artist Concept of Mariner 4 at Mars

This image of Mariner 4 superimposed on an image of Mars was used to advertise the Mariner 4 mission. Credit: NASA

Other than Earth, no planet in the solar system has been so thoroughly or long examined as Mars. For more than two decades now NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has continuously explored the Red Planet with an array of orbiters, landers, and rovers.

What laid the groundwork for this unparalleled record of exploration? This 90-minute documentary describes the challenges of JPL’s first attempts to send spacecraft to the Red Planet.

For much of human history, Mars was no more than a tiny reddish dot in the sky. But in 1965 the first spacecraft ever to visit Mars, JPL’s Mariner 4, began to change our understanding of the planet with its grainy black-and-white images of Mars. The data from Mariner 4 and those that followed were full of confusing data for the scientists to understand.

The Changing Face of Mars, reveals through archival footage and interviews with key scientists and engineers, JPL’s first roles in exploring the Red Planet, from Mariner 4, through the 1976 arrival of the Viking orbiters and landers.

Mariner 4 was a NASA spacecraft that was launched on November 28, 1964, as part of the Mariner program. Its mission was to fly by and study Mars, making it the first spacecraft to successfully fly by another planet. Mariner 4’s flyby of Mars took place on July 15, 1965, and it returned the first close-up images of the Martian surface, showing a barren, heavily cratered terrain with no signs of canals or other features that had been previously proposed as evidence of Martian civilization. Mariner 4 also provided valuable data on the Martian atmosphere and magnetic field. The spacecraft was also sent to study the interplanetary medium, and to measure the solar wind, magnetic field, and cosmic dust in the vicinity of Mars.

JPL and the Space Age Video Series

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