In today's universe, it seems unimaginable that a planetary spacecraft would leave the comfort of its terrestrial perch without some kind of imaging system on board. But in the early 1960s, as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was reveling in the success of its first planetary mission to Venus and setting its sights on Mars -- a destination whose challenges would unfurl themselves much more readily than they had with Venus -- for some scientists, the question of camera or none was still just that, a question.
Bud Schurmeier, project manager for NASA's Ranger missions, a few years ago recalled, "There were a lot of scientists who said, 'Pictures, that's not science. That's just public information.' Over the years, that attitude has changed so markedly, and so much information has been obtained just from the photographs."
The recent passing of former JPL Director and career-long planetary imaging advocate Bruce C. Murray, 81, is a reminder of how different our understanding of the planets -- and our appreciation of them -- would be without space-based cameras.
This truth was evident as early as 1965, when NASA's Mariner 4, carrying an imaging system designed by a young Murray and his colleagues, arrived at Mars. It marked the world's first encounter with the Red Planet, a remarkable achievement in itself. But for an anxious press, public and mission team, the Holy Grail lay in catching that first glimpse of Mars up-close.
It was a waiting game that was too much for some. For everyone, in fact:
What resulted became known as "The first image of Mars." And in many ways it symbolizes -- more than any of the actual 22 photographs captured by Mariner 4 -- how significant this opportunity to truly "see" Mars had been.
Now, nearly 50 years after Mariner 4's arrival at Mars, imaging systems are an integral piece of our quest to understand the planets and the universe beyond, playing key roles in scientific investigations, spacecraft navigation and public support for missions. It's because of that first image that we can now look at that red dot in the night sky and picture what has become our new reality of Mars:
In 1961, mathematicians from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech worked together to construct a Hadamard Matrix containing 92 rows and columns, with combinations of positive and negative signs. In a Hadamard Matrix, if you placed all the potential rows or columns next to each other, half of the adjacent cells would be the same sign, and half would be the opposite sign. This mathematical problem had been studied since about 1893, but the solution to the 92 by 92 matrix was unproven until 1961 because it required extensive computation.
From left to right, holding a framed representation of the matrix, are Solomon Golomb, assistant chief of the Communications Systems Research Section; Leonard Baumert, a postdoc student at Caltech; and Marshall Hall, Jr., a Caltech mathematics professor. In a JPL press release, Sol Golomb pointed out the possible significance of the discovery in creating codes for communicating with spacecraft.
The team used JPL’s IBM 7090 computer, programmed by Baumert, to perform the computations.
In 1991, Diatek Corporation of San Diego put a new infrared thermometer - Model 7000 - on the market. Early electronic thermometers had been used by some hospitals and doctors' offices for several years before that time, but this Diatek model was a pioneering effort to modify space-based infrared sensors for a medical infrared thermometer. The underlying technology was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for missions including the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, or IRAS. IRAS measured the temperature of stars and planets by reading the infrared radiation emitted from them, while the thermometer almost instantly determined body temperature by measuring the energy emitted from the eardrum - quite an advancement in medical technology. Diatek was part of the JPL Technology Affiliates Program, or TAP, in the late 1980s and received help from JPL personnel in adapting infrared sensor technology to this new product.
An intense magnetic field facility was completed in 1964 by the Physics Section of the Space Sciences Division at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was intended for use in studying superconductors, spectroscopy and new materials, and in other experiments where a wider range of measurements was possible because of the high magnetic field. This photo shows the magnet at center. The system also included a control room, cooling tower, pumps and a heat exchanger. The generator was located in a separate room because of the noise. Water was pumped through the magnet at about 440 gallons per minute, to regulate the temperature of the large copper coil in the center of the magnet. The closed loop system contained distilled water with sodium nitrite for corrosion control.
According to a technical report about the facility, the magnetic field of the magnet and bus bars penetrated nearby rooms to a depth of about 30 feet. Any iron that could be attracted to the magnet had to be removed from the area.
In 1952, the majority of the 1,000 employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were men, and most of the women working on lab were in clerical positions. There were some exceptions, such as the women of the Computing Section, and three women who had technical positions in the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory. In addition to chemist Lois Taylor, seen in this photo, Julia Shedlesky also worked as a chemist and Luz Trent was a lab technician. Taylor began working at JPL in 1946. The Chemistry Section was involved in the development of new solid and liquid propellants, propellant evaluations and general studies on combustion processes in motors.
In 1963, spacecraft vibration tests were conducted in the Environmental Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. A slab of granite, coated in oil, provided a smooth and stable base for the magnesium slip plate, test fixture and Ranger 6 spacecraft mounted on it. There were vibration exciters (shakers) on each end, capable of more than 25,000 pounds of force. The horizontal fixture at left was used for low frequency vibration testing, and the equipment was capable of testing along all three spacecraft axes.
During the 1960s, Ranger, Surveyor and Mariner spacecraft were developed, built and tested at JPL. Because of the heavy use, a similar but smaller test fixture was used for vibration tests on spacecraft components and assemblies. Building 144 still contains test facilities, but this equipment was removed and the room now contains an acoustic chamber.
This post was written for “Historical Photo of the Month,” a blog by Julie Cooper of JPL's Library and Archives Group.
This interactive computer-based stereo viewing system was used to analyze Mars topography images generated by the cameras on NASA's Viking 1 Mars lander. Two 17-inch video monitors faced a scanning stereoscope mounted between them on a table. Left and right lander camera image data were sent to the left and right monitors. Panning controls on the stereoscope helped align one image with the other to create a stereo image, 640 by 512 pixels in size. A mouse was used for finely controlled rotation of the monitors. An article about the system described a prototype mouse, used before this photo was taken in 1976. "The track ball is a baseball-sized sphere protruding from the top of a retaining box and capable of being rotated freely and indefinitely about its center ..."
The resulting images could be displayed on additional monitors and were used to create contour maps and other images that aided lander surface operations. The system was developed by Stanford University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
On October 31, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., celebrated its 76th anniversary. It began with a few individuals working on the Caltech campus and testing rocket motors in the Arroyo Seco. By the time this 1944 map of "The Project" was created, JPL was supported by Army Air Corps contracts and the site included more than 50 offices, labs and test facilities.
In 1960 through 1961, several different experiments were conducted at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in search of a frictionless bearing for use in space applications, gyroscopes and other machinery. There were cryogenic, gas and electrostatic types of bearings, and the photo above shows a magnetic bearing. It was suspended by counterbalancing the force of gravity and an electromagnet. A servo feedback system continually corrected the current flow through the electromagnet to keep it stable.
In 1961, a drop capsule was developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., by Section 354, Engineering Research. It was an experimental chamber to study how liquids behave in free-fall (zero gravity). The prototype capsule was dropped from a helicopter hovering at 800 feet, but the capsule was found to be too unstable for these tests. In September 1962, a trial drop was done from the Bailey bridge that connected JPL to the east parking lot. Testing was then moved to a bridge crossing Glen Canyon near Page, Arizona. The dam was under construction at the time and provided a 672-foot-fall with a soft dirt impact area.
The 204 pound shell contained a high-impact sequence camera designed for this experiment, a stopwatch, a liquid sample and a release mechanism. Three external motion picture cameras with different focal lengths looked down on the capsule as it fell. Although the capsule fell for about 10 seconds without rolling, pitching or yawing, there were problems with the internal release mechanism. It appears the experiment was discontinued after two attempts.