New spacecraft, new failures

TIMELINE: AUG 1961-NOV 1962

The short ilight of Venera 1 revealed much about the requirements for planetary spacecraft, and in the time remaining to the next launch windows Sergey Korelev’s engineers developed the 2MV design that was to become the basis for many Venera and Mars spacecraft in years to come.

Meanwhile, the Americans worked on their first true lunar spacecraft, which was much heavier than its precursors owing to the use of the new Atlas-Agena launcher. This Ranger lunar spacecraft was also the basis for the successful Mariner scries of planetary spacecraft, both built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The US skilled up by a process of trial and error, with the Ranger scries suffering six failures before the launcher and spacecraft were perfected. The Mariner scries was more successful at the outset and, ironically, the LTS had a successful mission to Venus in 1962 before it had one to the Moon! The Soviets were quite chagrined that the US had beat them to Venus despite their own early and extensive lead in rockets and spacecraft.

The Soviet Union launched six 2MV spacecraft in 1962, three for Venus and three for Mars. Only one survived its launch vehicle, Mars 1. Launch vehicle failures were to continue to be a major cause of lunar and planetary mission losses throughout the 1960s, with the dominant cause being fourth-stage problems. Mars 1 flew for almost 5 months and exposed numerous problems with the new spacecraft design before it finally failed in transit.

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