Monday, December 3, 2012

50 Years Ago: Mariner II in Trouble

Art of the Mariner II probe to Venus.

Was the Mariner mission to Venus a cursed mission? Some people were wondering that during the end of November in 1962. The Mariner mission to Venus was intended to succeed in receiving signals from a probe near Venus, make sensor readings of the planet as the probe passed by, and detect any magnetic fields around the planet. Mariner 1 was destroyed when a malfunctioning Atlas rocket veered off course in July 1962, forcing the range officer to push the self-destruct button. Mariner w, an exact copy of the first, launched on August 27, 1962. On September 4, engineers were surprised when the craft lost its lock on the Sun briefly while the craft was making a mid-course correction. Thankfully, lock was re-acquired and Mariner proceeded on its way, On its journey, the craft measured the solar wind, detected interplanetary dust, and detected high-energy particles coming from Solar Flares.

Twice during the voyage, the craft suddenly turned off scientific instruments and activated emergency gyroscopes. Navigational lock was lost briefly, then reacquired and instruments turned back on. Scientists speculated that perhaps the craft had been hit by micrometeorites.

Coming into November, one of the solar panels providing energy to the craft began to flirt with breakdown. Finally on November 15, the panel shut down completely. Fortunately the craft was close enough to the Sun now to receive more energy, so instruments were not impacted and the craft continued on its journey, expecting to arrive in December. Still, some scientists had to be wondering, What Next?

No comments: