First TV Image of Mars

Mars Hand Color Image
First TV Photo Of Mars. Hand Colored In, Courtesy of NASA:

2020 is a big year for space travel to Mars. There are several different countries attempting to send spacecraft to the planet with a variety of different setups and goals. Some of these spacecraft will be the countries first attempt at sending a spacecraft to another celestial body, a countries first Mars Rover, or another rover that the country is sending to the red planet, they all have a story. But lets go back in time when sending spacecraft to the red planet was new and never before seen up close by spacecraft! Would you believe that the first TV image of Mars was colored in by the staff of NASA by pastels, too impatient to wait for the results to process? That’s true, so keep reading to find out more below!

It was the space race, the USSR had tried with varied success to send probes to Mars. Some failed to launch, while others crash landed. It wouldn’t be until the 1970’s until the first soft landings on Mars would occur. But in 1964, there has yet to be a successful flyby of the planet and close up color photos of the Martian surface have yet to be returned to Earth. This would all change after the launch of the Mariner 4 probe is launched, which is launched on November 28th, 1964. 

After a lengthy jouurney to Mars, Mariner 4 because the performed the first spacecraft to successful perform a flyby of the planet Mars as well as returning the first close-up pictures of the Martian surface. This meant that Mariner 4 captured the first images of another planet ever returned from deep space.

When approaching Mars, the onboard computer on Mariner 4 started to suggest that there was an issue with the tape-recorder. As there was an issue with Mariner 3 that caused the mission to fail to send back data to Earth about the Red Planet, the Mariner 4 team decided to definitively test the camera functionality. This meant utilizing the camera to take a digital of Mars and return the image for processing. After the image was printed in black and white, but before the image was processed with color by the computer, the team went to an art supply store and purchased a pastel set. This pastel set was used to hand paint and coloring in of the image according to the numerical raw pixel numbers. This not only meant that the digital camera was working, but this also meant that the first digital image of Mars was hand colored in by pastel! The NASA employees did use the numbers on the printed sheets of paper representing the hues of red as guidance when coloring the panel.

According to NASA website on the topic, “A “real-time data translator” machine converted a Mariner 4 digital image data into numbers printed on strips of paper. Too anxious to wait for the official processed image, employees from the Telecommunications Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attached these strips side by side to a display panel and hand colored the numbers like a paint-by-numbers picture.”[1]

The image was a hit with the press and the collage currently resides on the wall at JPL. The Mariner 4 mission was a success as it contained seven scientific instruments to study the Martian atmosphere and surface. It took 22 photographs, which revealed the existence of lunar type craters upon a desert-like surface. After completing its mission, Mariner 4 continued past the planet to the far side of the Sun. On December 20, 1967, all operations of the spacecraft were ended.



To learn about the different Mars 2020 missions, check out this article on the subject.

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  1. Mars: Scientific Missions - CosmosPNW

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