Launch Points: The First Close-Up of Mars

In July 1965, JPL and the world were anxiously awaiting the first close-up image of the Red Planet, which would be delivered by Mariner 4. The spacecraft flew by Mars on July 15 and started transmitting the pictures it took the next day at a frustratingly slow rate of eight and a third bits per second. Once the data had been received, the image still had to be processed. Getting impatient with the image-processing process, members of the Mariner team started stapling to the wall strips of data related to one of the transmitted images, and coloring them by hand based on the brightness values of the pixels. That paint-by-number creation hangs today in Building 186 and is known as the “first image of Mars.”

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Photo: Courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech