Mariner 3
Mariner 3 and 4.jpg
The Mariner 3 or 4 spacecraft, which were identical
Mission typeMars flyby
OperatorNASA / JPL
COSPAR ID1964-073A Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.923
Mission durationLaunch failure
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerJet Propulsion Laboratory
Launch mass260.8 kilograms (575 lb)
Power300 watts (at Mars encounter)
Start of mission
Launch dateNovember 5, 1964, 19:22:05 (1964-11-05UTC19:22:05Z) UTC
RocketAtlas LV-3 Agena-D
Launch siteCape Canaveral LC-13
Orbital parameters
Reference systemHeliocentric

Mariner 3 (together with Mariner 4 known as Mariner-Mars 1964) was one of two identical deep-space probes designed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA's Mariner-Mars 1964 project that were intended to conduct close-up (flyby) scientific observations of the planet Mars and transmit information on interplanetary space and the space surrounding Mars, televised images of the Martian surface and radio occultation data of spacecraft signals as affected by the Martian atmosphere back to Earth.[1][2]

Although the launch was initially successful, there was a separation issue and Mariner 3 stopped responding when its batteries ran out of power. It was the third of ten spacecraft within the Mariner program.


Mariner 2 had been a modified Ranger lunar probe, however Mariner 3 used a new, larger bus with four solar panels, a TV camera, and additional instrumentation. Because of the greater mass, the new Agena D stage would be used instead of the Agena B. Mariner 3 also utilized a new, larger fiberglass payload fairing. Of the two Atlas-Agena pads at Cape Canaveral, LC-13 became available first following the launch of an Air Force Vela satellite in July 1964. Atlas vehicle 289D was erected on the pad on August 17, with the backup Mariner probe and booster (Atlas 288D) erected on LC-12 on September 28.

Launch failure

Mariner 3 was launched at 2:22 PM EST on November 5, 1964, from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 13. After an uneventful boost phase, the Agena completed its burn to place the probe on a trajectory towards Mars. One hour after launch, the first telemetry transmissions from Mariner 3 were received, indicating that the scientific instruments were functioning correctly but there was no indication of any solar panel operation. Unsure of the exact problem, ground controllers issued a command to turn off the rate gyros to conserve power while they worked to figure out what had happened. Telemetry data suggested a separation failure of either the Agena or the payload fairing, but a below-normal velocity appeared to indicate that the fairing had not separated properly. A command was sent to manually jettison the payload shroud, but nothing happened. The ground controllers next considered firing Mariner 3's midcourse correction engine to blow off the shroud, but they ran out of time. Eight hours after launch, the batteries in the probe died and the mission was officially terminated. Even if the shroud could be removed, the mission probably would have failed anyway since the low velocity meant that Mariner 3 would miss Mars by several million miles.[3][4]

Three weeks later, on November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 was launched successfully on a 7½-month voyage to Mars.


The instruments on Mariner 3 included:[5]

  1. Television camera
  2. Magnetometer
  3. Plasma probe
  4. Cosmic ray telescope
  5. Trapped radiation detector
  6. Cosmic ray ionization chamber
  7. Cosmic dust detector

See also


  1. ^ "Mariner Mars 1964 Mechanical Configuration" (PDF). NASA Technical Reports Server. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  2. ^ Douglas, D. W. (17 August 1964). "Spaceflight Operations Plan Mariner Mars '64" (PDF). NASA Technical Reports Server. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  3. ^ "Launch Complex 13".
  4. ^ Pyle, Rod (2012). Destination Mars. Prometheus Books. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-61614-589-7. Mariner 3, dead and still ensnared in its faulty launch shroud, in a large orbit around the sun.
  5. ^ JPL Technical Memorandum No. 33-229, To Mars: The Odyssey of Mariner IV (PDF) (Report). Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, NASA. 1965-01-01. pp. 21–23. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-04-13. Retrieved 2012-11-03.