The Perseverance rover recently took its first steps on Mars and has already delivered numerous images. At the time of their presentation, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had notably returned to the very first image of Mars dating from 1965. Coming from the Mariner 4 probe, it had been colored by hand!
The first image of the surface of Mars
In recent weeks, the rover Perseverance is widely talked about in the media and on social networks. The images of his landing were widely relayed, in particular because of the presence of a hidden message on the parachute. When presenting the first images of mars sent by the rover to Earth (see the video at the end of the article), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) spoke of the enormous progress made in recent decades.
Mike Watkins, director of JPL, notably showed the very first image of the Martian surface dating from 1965. This came from the Mariner 4 probe, the fourth of this program whose objective was to study Mars, Mercury and Venus. However, according to Mike Watkins, this very first image of the red planet was hand-colored by engineers.
Like a coloring game
In reality, it is not really an image per se as we see it today. At the time, a real-time data translation machine converted digital image data of the probe in numbers printed on strips of paper. The JPL engineers, obviously very impatient to share their progress, did not wait to receive the real picture. They posted the strips of paper next to each other and colored them by hand much like a little number coloring game. The result was then presented to William Hayward, then director of JPL, and the image is still considered to be the very first of Mars today.
In 1965, the Mariner 4 probe traveled for 228 days around March, offering images that have marked history. It was carrying a television camera system, the Mars Television Camera Experiment, the purpose of which was to obtain surface images. Six other instruments were used to study the atmosphere and the surface of the planet. In total, Mariner 4 has immortalized twenty pictures revealing to earthlings its desert surface, the main characteristic of which is the presence of numerous craters.
Here is the video in which Mike Watkins returns to the incredible story of the very first image of the Martian surface: