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NASA History Program Office Hosts Solar System Exploration @ 50 Symposium
James L. GreenDr. James Green gives the lunch keynote address during the Solar System @ 50 Symposium on Oct. 25, 2012.
Image: NASA/Paul Alers
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John F Kennedy Receives Mariner ModelThis 1961 photo shows JPL Center Director William H. Pickering, presenting a Mariner spacecraft model to President John F. Kennedy, (right). NASA Administrator James Webb is standing directly behind the Mariner model.
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Mariner 2 Mariner 2, the world's first successful interplanetary spacecraft, launched Aug. 27, 1962, on an Atlas-Agena rocket.
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NASA’s exploration of the solar system began 50 years ago with the successful launch of the Mariner 2 spacecraft on Aug. 27, 1962. The spacecraft launched aboard an Atlas-Agena rocket and passed within about 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) of Venus, sending back valuable new information about interplanetary space and the Venusian atmosphere. The mission recorded the planet's temperature for the first time, revealing its very hot atmosphere of about 500 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit). The spacecraft's solar wind experiment was the first to measure the density, velocity, composition and variation over time of the solar wind. The probe stopped transmitting in 1963 after delivering a wealth of scientific information.

Since the success of Mariner 2, NASA successfully has launched a host of solar system mission, notably Cassini to study to Saturn and its moons, and multiple missions to Mars, the latest of which, Curiosity, landed on the Red Planet in August 2012.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of this, the first successful planetary mission, the NASA History Program Office, in conjunction with the Division of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, the NASA Science Mission Directorate and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory hosted a symposium on Oct. 25-26, 2012. The event was held at the Lockheed Martin Global Vision Center in Arlington, Va. The event also was streamed live on UStream and is archived at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/26420237.

The Solar System Exploration @ 50 symposium explored issues of interest to scholars, media and the public covering the 50-year history of the space age, what scientists have learned about the other bodies of the solar system and the process whereby they have learned it.

This symposium apursued broader questions relating to the history of planetary exploration, such as various flight projects and their broader implications for the exploration of other solar system bodies; development of space science disciplines and institution building; the relationships of organizations/international, civil/military, etc., one to another; as well as the relationship between robotic exploration and human spaceflight. The symposium participants also offered analyses of the science of solar system origins and evolution.

William P. Barry
NASA Chief Historian