Mariner 3 was a 260 kg solar-cell and battery-powered spacecraft designed to make scientific measurements in the vicinity of Mars and to obtain photographs of the planet's surface and transmit these to Earth. Of the two designated pads, LC-13 was available first after the multi-satellite launch of the second pair of Vela satellites and the last TRS Mk. The mission was a total loss. Three decades after Mariner 4's flyby of Mars on July 14, 1965 -- the first spacecraft ever to reach the planet and take close-up photographs of the Martian surface -- NASA is preparing a whole new decade of Mars missions that will rely on revolutionary new technologies and smaller, cheaper, faster spacecraft to continue robotic exploration of the Red Planet. Another flyby probe and the first ever Mars lander also fell prey to rocket issues during the next launch window in the fall of 1962. Just as they did with the Mariner-Venus missions, NASA would instead be forced to rely on a much lighter weight spacecraft originally derived from the Ranger lunar spacecraft bus (see “The Prototype That Conquered the Solar System“). In order to get the needed performance, the General Dynamics Atlas D would be mated with a modified version of the improved Agena D built by Lockheed Space and Missile Company (which, after decades of corporate mergers, is now part of the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin along with what was General Dynamics Space Systems Division). (NASA/GRC). The Mariner D spacecraft with its new shroud was mated to the Atlas-Agena D on November 24 with final tests of the new shroud design satisfactorily completed two days later. Click on image to enlarge.

The day after the launch of Mariner 3, JPL engineers suggested that the problem with the new shroud was possibly caused when its skin separated from the honeycomb fiberglass core due to the pressure differential between the unvented core and the exterior. (NASA).

II nanosatellite on July 17, 1964 (see “Vintage Micro: The Original Picosatellite”). (JPL). From Project Inception Through Midcourse Maneuver, JPL Technical Report No. However, soon after its launch, the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed to open properly and the mission was unsuccessful. The Atlas-Agena D carrying Mariner 4 with a new all-metal shroud being prepared at LC-12 for its launch on November 28, 1964. The fiberglass shroud with its beryllium nose cap visible in the background had to be abandoned after the design caused the failure of Mariner 3 on November 5. A 1/10th scale model of a UNIPAC-derived shroud being prepared for wind tunnel testing.

(NASA). Mariner 3, as it was now designated, was targeted to follow a Type II trajectory that would reach Mars on July 17, 1965 after a flight of 254 days – the longest interplanetary mission ever attempted up until that time. The launch of Mariner D would use Atlas 288D and Agena 6932 to send spacecraft MC-3 to Mars from LC-12. This would be the first time NASA would use the Atlas-Agena D for one of its missions. It lasted about three years in solar orbit, continuing long-term studies of the solar wind and making coordinated measurements with the Mariner 5 spacecraft. Mariner 3 was designed to fly by Mars and conduct other interplanetary experiments along the way. In the decade between mid-1964 and late 1975, the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched nine robotic spacecraft -- seven Mariners and two Vikings -- to explore Mars.

The spacecraft flew past Mars on July 14, 1965, collecting the first close-up photographs of another planet. My website is dedicated to the presentation and discussion of my past and current professional work. Since the Ranger-style nose shroud used by Mariner 2 was too small to accommodate the Mariner C and D spacecraft with their larger solar panels and altered antenna configuration, a new and larger shroud was required.
It was intended that the spacecraft would encounter Mars after a 325-million mile journey in a little less than 8 months. In the atmosphere of Cold War competition with the United States, the Soviet Union had attempted to send a pair of flyby probes to Mars in the fall of 1960 only to have them succumb to launch vehicle failures (see “The First Mars Mission Attempts“). Mariner 3 was launched on November 5, 1964, but the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed to open properly, and Mariner 3 did not get to Mars.

A diagram illustrating the general trajectory of the Mariner-Mars 1964 missions to the Red Planet.

Responsibility for the launch vehicle was given to NASA’s Lewis Research Center (LeRC) located outside Cleveland, Ohio (now named the Glenn Research Center after Ohio-native, John Glenn). In order to buy as much time as possible to attempt corrective action, a command was sent to the spacecraft to turn off the gyros to conserve battery power.

MARINER 3 and 4 | Back to Past Missions After a successful simulated launch on November 2 and passing on the first day of the launch window to attend to some last minute hardware tests on the Agena D, Mariner C lifted off from LC-13 on November 5, 1964 at 19:22:05 GMT.
With a total of seven spacecraft currently operating in orbit and on the surface of Mars today, it seems hard to believe that just a half a century ago we had yet to even reach our much-studied neighbor.

Because of the characteristics of the 1964 Mars opportunity, mission constraints and the limitations of even the more capable Atlas-Agena D, Mariner’s launch window to Mars lasted only about 27 days from November 4 to 30. Even with advancements in spacecraft systems design since the Mariner-Venus mission, these requirements pushed the mass of the Mariner-Mars spacecraft up to 261 kilograms.

Mariner 3 was designed to fly by Mars and conduct other interplanetary experiments along the way.

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