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Mariner 10
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Mariner 10
Mariner 10 Mission to Mercury Mariner 10 Mission to Venus

Mission Type: Flyby
Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Centaur (AC-34 / Atlas 3D no. 5014D / Centaur D-1A)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, USA, Launch Complex 36B
NASA Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: 502.9 kg (launch mass including 29 kg of propellant and attitude-control gas)
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) imaging system; 2) infrared radiometer; 3) ultraviolet airglow spectrometer; 4) ultraviolet occultation spectrometer; 5) two magnetometers; 6) charged-particle telescope and 7) plasma analyzer
Spacecraft Dimensions: Octagonal main body measured 46 cm high and 1.39 m in diameter. Fully deployed, the spacecraft was 8.0 m across the solar panels and 3.7 m from the top of the low-gain antenna to the bottom of the heat shield.
Spacecraft Power: Solar panels
Maximum Power: 820 W at encounter
Antenna Diameter: 1.39 m (high-gain)
Maximum Data Rate: 117.6 kilobits per second
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi

National Space Science Data Center,

Solar System Log by Andrew Wilson, published 1987 by Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd.

Mariner 10 was the first spacecraft sent to the planet Mercury, the first mission to explore two planets (Mercury and Venus) during a single mission, the first to use gravity-assist to change its flight path, the first to return to its target after an initial encounter, and the first to use the pressure of sunlight on its solar panels and high-gain antenna, like a solar sail, for attitude control.

The primary goal of Mariner 10 was to study the atmosphere (if any), surface, and physical characteristics of Mercury.

Soon after leaving Earth orbit, the spacecraft returned photos of both Earth and the Moon as it sped to its first destination, Venus. During the coast, there were numerous technical problems, including malfunctions in the high-gain antenna and the attitude-control system. After midcourse corrections on 13 November 1973 and 21 January 1974, Mariner 10 approached Venus on 5 February 1974 and returned a total of 4,165 photos of the planet and collected important scientific data during its encounter. The closest flyby range was 5,768 kilometers at 17:01 UT.

Assisted by Venusian gravity, the spacecraft now headed to the innermost planet, which it reached after another midcourse correction on 16 March 1974. As Mariner 10 approached Mercury, its photos began to show a very Moon-like surface with craters, ridges, and chaotic terrain. The spacecraft's magnetometers revealed a weak magnetic field. Radiometer readings suggested nighttime temperatures of -183°C and maximum daytime temperatures of 187°C. The closest encounter was at 20:47 UT on 29 March 1974 at a range of 703 kilometers.

Having looped around the Sun, Mariner 10 flew by Mercury once more on 21 September 1974 at a more distant range of 48,069 kilometers. The spacecraft used the pressure of sunlight on its solar panels and high-gain antenna, like a solar sail, for attitude control. A third and final encounter, the closest to Mercury, took place on 16 March 1975 at a range of 327 kilometers. Contact with the spacecraft was terminated on 24 March 1975.


Key Dates
3 Nov 1973:  Launch (05:45 UT)
5 Feb 1974:  Venus Encounter
29 Mar 1974:  Mercury Flyby 1
21 Sep 1974:  Mercury Flyby 2
16 Mar 1975:  Mercury Flyby 3
Status: Successful
Fast Facts
Mariner 10 Facts Mariner 10 was a mission of many firsts.

It was the first spacecraft to visit Mercury (right), the first to use a gravity assist and the first to visit more than one planet.

It was also the first to make multiple flybys of a planet (Mercury) and the first to use the solar wind for orientation during flight.
People Spotlight
Al Hibbs Al Hibbs
Al Hibbs decided as a five-year-old that he wanted to go to the Moon. He did qualify as an astronaut, but his legacy is in robotic exploration. Read More...
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Last Updated: 5 Mar 2015