15 Jul: The Red Planet Gets Closer

The first images of Mars found their way back to Earth from NASA’s Mariner 4 mission on 15th July, 1965 – and were simultaneously revelatory and disappointing.

Delivered as binary code, rendered in black and white, and revealing only 1% of the planet, the photos were coloured in by hand and showed no evidence of life. But they played a significant part in the scientific understanding of the Red Planet for years to come.

In this episode, Arion, Olly and Rebecca compare the computing power of the 1960s with ‘lame’ Victorian telescopes; reveal the surprisingly recent date that the first ever colour image of Mars was committed to camera; and explain how a mis-translation from Italian lead H.G. Wells to think there may be Martian waterways…

Further Reading:

• Mariner 4 at NASA.gov: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mariner-4

• ‘Men Encounter Mars’ (NASA documentary, 1965):

• ‘First Mission To Mars: Mariner 4’s Special Place in History’ (Cosmos, 2017): https://cosmosmagazine.com/space/first-mission-to-mars-mariner-4-s-special-place-in-history/