Friday, May 8, 2015

Tonight's Sky for May 8: Mariner 8 Launched (1971)

It was on this date in 1971 that NASA launched its Mariner 8 spacecraft which, along with Mariner 9, made up the Mars 71 Program. Unfortunately, the mission never reached orbit thanks to the rocket spinning out of control scarcely 6 minutes after launch. Instead of entering orbit around Mars, Mariner 8 entered the Atlantic Ocean about 800 miles downrange from its launch pad.

Fortunately, Mariner 9 was a complete success, becoming the first probe to enter orbit around another planet (while beating a pair of Russian probes by just a few days, to boot) and, over the course of its nearly year-long stay, returned over 7,300 pictures, and mapped roughly 85% of the Martian surface despite the first several months of the mission being fruitless thanks to a months-long Martian dust storm.

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