Did you know that in 1974 Mariner 10 became the first space probe to fly by Mercury? Mariner 10 sent back almost 7,000 photographs of Venus and Mercury and other scientific data. These data gave scientists more information about the environment, atmosphere, and surface of Venus and Mercury. It showed the chemical composition of Venus’ clouds and the rocky, moon-like surface of Mercury. At the end of the mission, Mariner 10 was not purposefully destroyed. If it has not been struck by an asteroid or other large object, Mariner 10 is still orbiting the Sun today.
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Since Mercury is so close to the sun, Mariner 10 had to be designed to withstand high amounts of solar radiation and required extra shielding. They used thermal blankets, sunshades and special paint with thermal properties that reduced heat transfer. The solar panels proved to be one of the trickiest to design since they could not be covered or painted (this would render the solar panels’ useless for gathering sunlight for electricity), but still had to remain below 115 C. After careful consideration, the solar panels were mounted in a way so they could be tilted away or towards the Sun.
One of the riskiest part of the Mariner 10 mission was launch. Mariner 1, Mariner 3, and Mariner 8 were all lost within minutes of lift off and launch.
Mariner 10 was launched on November 3, 1973. Almost 3 months later, Mariner 10 arrived at Venus on February 5, 1974. Using Venus as a gravity assist, Mariner 10 changed its trajectory and arrived at Mercury on March 29, 1974.
Mariner 10 was the last probe in the Mariner program. Mariner 11 and 12 were absorbed into the Voyager program and re-designated as Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.
The data and experience collected in the Mariner 10 mission helped extensively with the Messenger mission, that collected data on Mercury until 2015.
A backup space probe was produced in case the space probe that was launched malfunctioned or was destroyed. Since Mariner 10 successfully launched and fulfilled its mission the back up spacecraft was not launched. It is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.