Space Ships and Astronauts: History of Unmanned Deep Space Probes

About the history of the United States unmanned deep space probes, NASA, the Pioneer and Mariner probes.


Major unmanned probes of outer space are revealing startling information unsuspected unless directly measured. The U.S.S.R. sent off the 1st in 1959, which entered an orbit around the sun. Four U.S. attempts from 1958 to 1960 failed, until finally Pioneer V entered sun orbit in March, 1960. Russia's Lunik II and III had already impacted the moon and the latter had taken the 1st pictures of its backside.

The 1961-1962 Ranger Program, the soft-landing Surveyor, and the lunar orbiters sent information and pictures for use in the manned flights to come and revealed to U.S. scientists profiles of deep space radiation and meteor density.

The Mariners were launched to Venus and Mars and they, with their Russian counterparts (again 1st), sent back torrents of information negating much that was previously believed about the planets. Mars has planet-wide dust storms in its thin atmosphere and shows definite signs of water erosion. Mariner 10 photographed Venus en route to a Mercury flyby on March 29, 1974, sending back the 1st pictures of the planet nearest the sun. The Soviet Venera probes entered Venus's clouds and telemetered data revealing an atmosphere closely resembling a description of a hurricane in hell.

Pioneer 10 traversed the rocky asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, to fly near Jupiter on December 3, 1973. Again surprises--the asteroid belt proved nearly empty, no hazard to navigation, and Jupiter's magnetic field was upside down and 10 times stronger than expected. On board Pioneer 10, now heading out of the solar system, is a little plaque engraved with 20th-century symbols. It is our 1st intentional message sent to anyone out there since Tesla fired his high-frequency spark discharges around the turn of the century. Will it be more decipherable than the "unintentional" messages sent before? Television signals escape through the same ionosphere that reflects radio waves, so Nielsen's "Top 10" are also travelers in space.

In late 1974, Helios left for its solar studies in orbit around the sun and Mariner 10 passed by Mercury a 2nd time, turned on its TV cameras, and sent back more pictures.

On March 16, 1975, Mariner 10 made its 3rd and final operational pass by Mercury, approaching within 198 mi. and sending close-up TV pictures. On this mission NASA got 3 flybys for the price of one.

Pioneer 11 swept by Jupiter on December 2, 1974, sending back the 1st Jovian polar pictures and new data on interior composition and the magnetic maelstrom surrounding the biggest planet.

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