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On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet. 1958-1978

[25] By August 1960 when Clarence R. Gates and his colleagues at Jet Propulsion Laboratory began studying plans for an interplanetary space-craft called Mariner B, NASA's lunar and planetary program was taking the basic form it would have for a decade. Mariner B, designed to explore Mars and Venus and the space between, competed for both financial and manpower resources with several other space science projects. Lunar spacecraft-Pioneer, Ranger, Surveyor, and Prospector-were the main attraction, while Mariner and Voyager with their planetary objectives took second billing.* 1 Lunar and planetary missions were arranged sequentially so that planners and scientists could progress from simple to complex tasks. Designers and engineers would likewise work on increasingly sophisticated spacecraft around a common chassis, or "bus," that could take successively more complex experiment packages into space. To meet these goals, NASA planned for the structured growth and development of several basic kinds of spacecraft. But spacecraft were only half the story. 2
Reliable launch vehicles were essential to space exploration, and their lack had bedeviled the American space endeavor from the beginning. Reliability and payload capacity of the boosters (both proposed and in existence) defined the dimensions and possible use of each kind of spacecraft. While this relationship between launch vehicle and spacecraft was apparent in any space project, it had an especially negative effect on Mariner B.

* Lunar projects were given names related to terrestrial exploration activities; interplanetary projects were given nautical-souning names that conveyed the impression of travel over great distances to remote lands.