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(Thu01) 50 years of Exploration

The first Mariners were designed and built on an extremely demanding schedule. JPL had to ready three probes - two to fly to Venus and one spare -- in less than a year, with strict weight limits.

 Getting to Venus was no easy feat. The Soviet Union suffered several failures in their attempts to get to Venus in 1961. And the rocket carrying NASA's first attempt, Mariner 1, began to fishtail shortly after launch. The range safety officer pushed the self-destruct button four minutes and 53 seconds into flight.

 Mariner 2 was launched Aug. 27, 1962, from Cape Canaveral. Shortly after liftoff, the rocket began to roll, making it unable to respond to guidance commands. In the first of a series of Mariner "miracles," the electrical short causing the issue mysteriously healed itself after about a minute.

 En route to Venus, Mariner 2 encountered many problems that nearly ended its mission. Among these were a solar panel that twice stopped working, a balky sensor designed to locate Earth and gyros that mysteriously misbehaved. Most troubling of all, temperatures on the spacecraft climbed to alarming levels as Mariner 2 drew closer to Venus. Mission controllers worried the spacecraft might cook itself before reaching its destination.

 But on Dec. 14, 1962, Mariner 2 hit its expected mark, gliding within 21,564 miles (34,675 kilometers) of our closest planetary neighbor. Machines at JPL spit out rolls of paper tape with microwave, infrared, radiation and magnetic fields data.

 read more about the first 50 yrs - http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/50years

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