NASA's Mariner 3 spacecraft. Credit: NASA

What was Mariner 3?

NASA's Mariner 3 was designed to take photos of Mars after an eight-month journey studying interplanetary space. The spacecraft lost power eight hours after launch and its solar panels apparently never unfurled and the spacecraft failed to achieve the correct Mars trajectory. It eventually entered heliocentric orbit.

Nation United States of America (USA)
Objective(s) Mars Flyby
Spacecraft Mariner-64C / Mariner-C
Spacecraft Mass 575 pounds (260.8 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management NASA / JPL
Launch Vehicle Atlas Agena D (Atlas Agena D no. 11 / Atlas D no. 289 / Agena D no. AD68/6931)
Launch Date and Time Nov. 5, 1964 / 19:22:05 UT
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Fla. / Launch Complex 13
Scientific Instruments 1. Imaging System
2. Cosmic Dust Detector
3. Cosmic Ray Telescope
4. Ionization Chamber
5. Helium Magnetometer
6. Trapped Radiation Detector
7. Solar Plasma Probe

Key Dates

Nov. 5, 1964: Launch

Nov. 6, 1964: Mission end date

In Depth: Mariner 3

NASA approved two probes for the Mariner Mars 1964 project in November 1962. The primary goal of the two spacecraft, code-named Mariner C, was to photograph the Martian surface using a single TV camera fixed on a scan platform that could return up to 22 frames.

Mariner 3, the first of the two probes, was launched at 19:22:05 UT Nov. 5, 1964, but the booster payload shroud failed to separate from the payload. Additionally, battery power spuriously dropped to zero (at T+8 hours 43 minutes) and the spacecraft’s solar panels apparently never unfurled to replenish the power supply.

Due to the incorrect mass of the spacecraft (since the payload shroud was still attached), it never entered a proper trans-Mars trajectory. The probe ended up in an unanticipated heliocentric orbit of 0.983 × 1.311 AU.

A later investigation indicated that the shroud’s inner fiberglass layer had separated from the shroud’s outer skin, thus preventing jettisoning.

Key Source

Siddiqi, Asif A. Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, 1958-2016. NASA History Program Office, 2018.

Related News