fifty years ago November 15, 1971 Archives

From the Archives (November 15, 1971): The Mariner-9 spacecraft’s orbit

The United States rocketed its Mariner-9 spacecraft into orbit around Mars yesterday [Pasadena, Nov. 14]. Mariner-9, looking like a plump pear with four sticks protruding from the side, became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet in the solar system. It apparently arrived at Mars ahead of two Soviet space probes,Mars-2 and 3, which Western scientists speculate will attempt unmanned landings. The spacecraft ended its five-and-a-half-month, 400 million-kilometre-journey at 7-17 p.m. (5-34 a.m. IST to-day) when a 15-minute burn of the Mariner-9 retrorocket slowed an 17,700 kilometre-per hour plunge so that Martian gravity could swing it into orbit. Thirteen minutes after its retrorocket firing with the power of 10 automobile engines — shut down the spacecraft passed behind Mars and out of communication with earth. While behind the planet, Mariner-9 completed a critical manoeuvre in which solar panels supplying electricity moved back into the view of the sun and battery operation of the spacecraft ended. Mariner-9 re-appeared at 8-16 p.m. (6-46 a.m. IST) and ground controllers received first signals six minutes later — the time it takes radio waves to reach from Mars.

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