Whatever Happened to NASA’s Mariner 8?

Image (Credit): The planet of Mars. (NASA)

An earlier post noted the anniversary of NASA’s Mariner 9 spacecraft to Mars, launched on May 30, 1971, but what about Mariner 8? What happened to that Mars bound spacecraft?

Both Mariner 8 and 9 we developed together so one could replace the other if needed, which was pretty smart. The Russians did the same thing with their first trip to Mars in 1971, successfully sending Mars 2 (launched May 19) and Mars 3 (launched May 28).

Mariner 8 was supposed to be the first U.S. spacecraft to orbit Mars. It was launched on May 8, 1971 but never achieved Earth orbit due to a launch vehicle failure. Instead, it fell into the Atlantic Ocean.

Of the 10 Mariner missions, 7 were successfully took space craft to Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Unfortunately, like Mariner 8, Mariner 1 failed after launch. Fortunately, like Mariner 9, Mariner 2 was a back up spacecraft that ensure mission success. Mariner 3 failed after launch because of a battery issue, but its double Mariner 4 was successful. Here are the 10 missions (you can find more about them here):

  • Mariner 1: Venus mission launched on July 22, 1962. — Failed
  • Mariner 2: Venus mission launched on August 27, 1962. — Success
  • Mariner 3: Mars mission launched on November 5, 1964. — Failed
  • Mariner 4: Mars mission launched on November 28, 1964. — Success
  • Mariner 5: Venus mission launched on June 14, 1967. — Success
  • Mariner 6: Mars mission launched on February 25, 1969. — Success
  • Mariner 7: Mars mission launched on February 25, 1969. — Success
  • Mariner 8: Mars mission launched on May 8, 1971. — Failed
  • Mariner 9: Mars mission launched on May 30, 1971. — Success
  • Mariner 10: Mercury and Venue mission launched on November 3, 1973. — Success

While three spacecraft failed, all of the missions were successful because of the redundancy built into the system. We do not seem to have such luxuries anymore, though NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission had two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to increase the chances of success. 

Image (Credit): Mariner 2 spacecraft. (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

Whatever Happened to Bigelow’s Space Hotels?

Image (Credit): Artist’s rending of Bigelow’s orbiting inflatable hotels. (Bigelow Space Operations)

Do you remember all of the talk about inflatable space hotels? Back in 2018, the U.S. space company Bigelow stated these expandable space station components would be launched by 2021:

With the two launches of B330-1 and B330-2 expected in 2021, the time is now in 2018 to begin BSO activity. These single structures that house humans on a permanent basis will be the largest, most complex structures ever known as stations for human use in space.

Created in 1998, Bigelow licensed the expandable component idea from NASA in 2000 and tried to make it commercially viable. Originally called the TransHab, NASA had developed the idea as a new component for the International Space Station (ISS).  Bigelow eventually sold the idea back to NASA as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which was successfully attached to the ISS in 2016. While NASA originally planned to jettison the BEAM from the ISS after two-years of testing and validation, it remained a part of the ISS.

Bigelow saw possibilities for a lunar depot or base, while NASA saw the BEAM as a model for cargo trips to Mars:

The journey to Mars is complex and filled with challenges that NASA and its partners are continuously working to solve. Before sending the first astronauts to the Red Planet, several rockets filled with cargo and supplies will be deployed to await the crews’ arrival. Expandable modules, which are lower-mass and lower-volume systems than metal habitats, can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

So after this success with the ISS and ideas for the future, where is Bigelow today? In March 2020, as COVID hit, the company laid off all of its employees and has yet to return to business. That does not mean this idea of expandable components disappears with the company, but it may need a new champion if it is to be part of the future space program.

Maybe Mr. Musk is looking for something to buy as part of his future Martian mission.

Image (Credit): NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik looks through the hatch of the International Space Station’s Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module (BEAM) on July 31, 2017. (NASA, Randy Bresnik)

Whatever Happened to Mars-One?

Source: Artist’s impression of a Mars One community on Mars from MIT

I remember the image above from Mars One and thinking that maybe the private sector could find an innovative way to beat governments to Mars. I also remember the profiles of individuals volunteering for a one-way trip to Mars to be part of the proposed Martian colony. So much for that idea. Mars One ran out of money and appears to be little more than a website at this point, where you can read the following:

In 2016 Mars One ran out of funds and was unable to continue the selection program and the technical studies. In the years after that, several attempts were made to raise additional funds, but they were unsuccessful. Despite that, Mars One has had an impact on Mars exploration by promoting the idea of permanent settlement. We, Mars One’s co-founders, are still convinced that the first crews that go to Mars should (or will have to) go there to stay. 

So Mars One still believes a one-way trip is the best approach. If so, it appears Mars One did not have the secret for a very long existence on Mars. An MIT study discussing the venture said the new martians would have survived a short time before expiring as they attempted to grow their food:

As the air inside the habitat continued to leak, the total atmospheric pressure would drop, creating an oppressive environment that would suffocate the first settler within an estimated 68 days.

I am not sure how that would have helped the drive to Mars if the first spot we established was a graveyard.

So give Mars Once credit for keeping the dream alive, and even being optimistic about the technology someday appearing to make it possible, though not in time for its scheduled mission. Fortunately, it went out of business before derailing our hopes for a successful manned mission to Mars.

Source: Mars One.