Mariner 9

Mariner 9

Thanks to the dedication of scientists and astronomers, there is information available that stretches from the various planets in our solar system to distant stars. In the case of Mars, knowledge is especially vast, but this was not always the case. An increased interest in Mars during the late 1960s and 1970s from both the United States and the Soviet Union can explain for this spike in knowledge, but more specifically, NASA’s Mariner series can be credited. Millions of dollars had been spent on Mariner missions to Mars, which consisted of important flybys that gave a great deal of insight into the workings of the planet. It was not until the Mariner 9 was developed and launched in 1971 that the effectiveness of the Mariner project was to be fully realized.

On May 30, 1971, Mariner 9 launched and with it came a host of astronomical goals and aspirations. The Mariner 9 was suppose to be accompanied with a partner craft, the Mariner 8, but an unsuccessful launch a few weeks earlier made this plan unworkable. Instead, the Mariner 9 went off taking on the tasks of both the Mariner 8 and itself. The Mariner 9 was now tasked with attempting to record 70% of Mars’ surface with a high resolution camera, as well as noting volcanic activity and temporal changes in the planet’s atmosphere. After a 167 day journey, Mariner 9 reached Mars and was successful at entering the planets orbit. This event was an accomplishment in itself, as the Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to enter another planet’s orbit on November 14, 1971. Though functionally ready to take the high resolution photographs, the Mariner 9 was delayed by the most violent sand storm seen on Mars at that time. After several weeks of waiting, the storm cleared up and the Mariner was able to execute its mission. In the end, the Mariner exceeded expectations and was responsible for photographing 100% of Mars’ surface. The Mariner also successfully gathered information on the atmospheric composition, density, pressure and temperature, in addition to the composition, temperature, gravity and topography of Mars’ surface. On October 27, 1972, the Mariner ran out of altitude control gas, resulting in the craft’s loss of power. Mariner 9 continues to be in a powerless orbit of Mars today.

The implication of the Mariner 9 mission on modern understandings of Mars is tremendous. The Mariner successfully recorded the planets north and south poles, craters, river beds, volcanoes and canyons. The Mariner also took the first close-up views of Mars’ two satellites, Phobos and Deimos. The discovery of river beds, along with the evidence of water erosion, is very important in piecing together the planetary history of Mars. It was previously unimagined that this red, dusty planet could have contained water, let alone rivers. In total, the Mariner 9 sent back more than 54 billion bits of scientific data, including an astonishing 7329 high resolution photos. The first detailed views of these various geological phenomenons, along with the countless pieces of additional information, were invaluable to scientists in the past and continue to be important to this day.




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