In January 2014, Opportunity (the NASA space agency's rover) discovered a strange stone on the surface of the Red Planet that looks like a donut with jam and, moreover, appeared suddenly in the field of view of the rover. Further studies have shown that the stone simply flew out from under the wheels of the rover, breaking away from the cobblestone, which he passed. After the mystery was unraveled, the agency stated that Opportunity would leave the place where the donut stone was discovered and move uphill to a section known as the McClure-Beverlyn slope.
The slope got its name in honor of the two brave men who retained the Mariner 6 spacecraft - these were the equipment of the US Air Force base at Cape Canaveral, Bill McClure and Jack Beverlin.
View of the eastern slope of McClure-Beverlin
The Mariner program was one of NASA's first attempts to study the Inner Solar System (this includes the Sun and four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars). The program started in 1960; within its framework it was planned to conduct a number of small-scale missions using the latest at that time carrier rockets of the Atlas family. All missions fell under the guidance of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and were supposed to start within a short time. It was planned that in addition to the Mariner program, this series of flights will help JPL Lab to develop the NASA Remote Space Network (DSN) on the eve of longer missions to remote areas of space.
All the spacecraft involved in the Mariner program had some common features. All of them were equipped with solar panels and parabolic antennas, which during the flight were directed towards the Sun and the Earth, respectively. Along with this, the equipment included an extensive arsenal of scientific instruments and cameras. “Mariner-6”, for example, had on board two television cameras, infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, an infrared radiometer, instruments for the S-band radio intrusion experiment and equipment for conducting studies in the field of celestial mechanics.
Mariner 6 had a twin brother Mariner 7, and together these spacecraft made the first double NASA mission to the red planet. Flying over the equatorial zone and the South Pole, they collected information about the nature of the atmosphere and the surface of the planet. More than 200 photos were transferred to Earth, and the total amount of broadcast data was over 800 megabits. Among the pictures were many large-scale, which allowed scientists to map approximately 20% of the planet's surface.
Both missions turned out to be extremely successful for NASA, but it is worth noting that during the launch of the “Mariner 6” device, there were quite serious problems.
In the tenths of February 1969, “Mariner-6” was almost completely ready for launch. The Atlas rocket, with which it was paired, was already on the launch platform at NASA’s launch site at Cape Canaveral in full prelaunch readiness. However, just 10 days before the planned launch as a result of an electrical fault, one of the main valves in the lower stage “Atlas” lost its tightness.
Probably, the man in the street atlas of the Atlas family is best known as the carriers that launched the orbital missions of the Mercury program - starting in 1962 and the orbital flight Mercury-Atlas-6, piloted by John Glenn. The aluminum lining of this rocket is so thin that during the stay of the carrier on the launch pad it is kept under increased pressure, because otherwise it may not be able to withstand the weight of the payload.
Photo of one of the craters of Mars, taken by Mariner 6
In the case of the Mariner 6, when the valve opened and the pressure in the booster began to decline, the 12-speed rocket began to deform. Bill McClure and Jack Beverlin were among the ground brigade members who rushed to eliminate the consequences of the incident. The rocket hung a sword of Damocles over their heads, threatening to fall at any moment, but the technicians rushed bravely to the instruments to bring the pressure in the forcing unit to normal. It was an extremely dangerous operation, they both put their lives at risk. McClure and Beverlin managed to stop the gas leakage from the rocket, stabilize its state and prevent further deformation and the inevitable fall. The rocket received some damage, but the Mariner-6 machine was able to be recovered intact by the efforts of these two employees. He was paired with another Atlas rocket and started on schedule, on February 25, 1969, from the 36V launch complex.
McClure and Beverlin for their merits in saving the mission were awarded NASA medals "For exceptional courage." In addition, the names of the brave men were immortalized on the map of Mars - it was in their honor that the slope was named, where the Opportunity rover is now being sent.