Illustration of the Mariner 2 spacecraft

The Mars-bound Mariner IV spacecraft early today established a new United States and world communications distance record when it reached a point in space more than 66 million miles from Earth, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported.

The mark exceeds that reported two years ago by Soviet scientists who said they lost radio contact with their Mars I spacecraft at a distance of more than 65 million miles.

At the speed of light, radio signals from Mariner IV now take nearly six minutes to reach NASA's deep space tracking stations on Earth. The Woomera, Australia, station of the Deep Space Network was tracking the spacecraft when the new communications record was set. Today is the 152nd day of the mission.

Mariner IV will fly by Mars next July 14 at an altitude of about 5,000 miles. Communications distance at that time will be 134 million miles.

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