As part of NASA's wider Mariner program, Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 (Mariner Mars 69A / 69B) completed the first dual mission to Mars in 1969. Mariner 6 was launched from Launch Complex 36B at Cape Kennedy and Mariner 7 from Launch Complex 36A at Cape Kennedy. The craft flew over the equator and south polar regions, analyzing the atmosphere and the surface with remote sensors, and recording and relaying hundreds of pictures. The mission's goals were to study the surface and atmosphere of Mars during close flybys, in order to establish the basis for future investigations, particularly those relevant to the search for extraterrestrial life, and to demonstrate and develop technologies required for future Mars missions. Mariner 6 also had the objective of providing experience and data which would be useful in programming the Mariner 7 encounter 5 days later.
On July 29, 1969, less than a week before closest approach, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with Mariner 7. The center regained the signal via the backup low-gain antenna and were able to start using the high gain antenna again shortly after Mariner 6's close encounter. It was later determined a battery onboard Mariner 7 had exploded. Based on the observations made by Mariner 6, Mariner 7 was reprogrammed in flight to take further observations of areas of interest and actually returned more pictures than Mariner 6, despite the explosion.
By chance, both flew over cratered regions and missed both the giant northern volcanoes and the equatorial grand canyon discovered later. Their approach pictures did, however, photograph about 20 percentof the planet's surface, showing the dark features long seen from Earth, but none of the canals mistakenly observed by ground-based astronomers. In total 198 photos were taken and transmitted back to Earth, adding more detail than the earlier mission, Mariner 4. Both craft also studied the atmosphere of Mars.
Closest approach for Mariner 6 occurred July 31, 1969, at 05:19:07 UT at a distance of 3,431 kilometres (2,132 mi) above the martian surface. Closest approach for Mariner 7 occurred August 5, 1969 at 05:00:49 UT at a distance of 3,430 kilometres (2,130 mi) above the martian surface.
The ultraviolet spectrometer onboard Mariners 6 and 7 was constructed by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
The engineering model of Mariners 6 and 7 still exists, and is owned by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is currently on loan to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and is on display in the lab's lobby.
The craft are now defunct in heliocentric orbits.
Spacecraft and subsystems
The Mariner 6 and 7 spacecraft were identical, consisting of an octagonal magnesium frame base, 138.4 cm (54.5 in) diagonally and 45.7 cm (18.0 in) deep. A conical superstructure mounted on top of the frame held the high-gain 1 meter diameter parabolic antenna and four solar panels, each measuring 215 x 90 cm (35 in), were affixed to the top corners of the frame. The tip-to-tip span of the deployed solar panels was 5.79 m. A low-gain omnidirectional antenna was mounted on a 2.23 m high mast next to the high-gain antenna. Underneath the octagonal frame was a two-axis scan platform which held scientific instruments. Overall science instrument mass was 57.6 kg (127 lb). The total height of the spacecraft was 3.35 m.
The spacecraft was attitude stabilized in three axes, referenced to the sun and the star Canopus. It utilized 3 gyros, 2 sets of 6 nitrogen jets, which were mounted on the ends of the solar panels, a Canopus tracker, and two primary and four secondary sun sensors. Propulsion was provided by a 223-newton rocket motor, mounted within the frame, which used the mono-propellant hydrazine. The nozzle, with 4-jet vane vector control, protruded from one wall of the octagonal structure. Power was supplied by 17,472 photovoltaic cells, covering an area of 7.7 square meters (83 sq ft) on the four solar panels. These could provide 800 watts of power near Earth, and 449 watts while orbiting Mars. The maximum power requirement was 380 watts, once Mars was reached. A 1200 watt-hour, rechargeable, silver-zinc battery was used to provide backup power. Thermal control was achieved through the use of adjustable louvers on the sides of the main compartment.
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