Space Exploration: Portrait of a Planet

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The picture was grainy and ill-defined, a blur of white curving across a black background. It would take months of painstaking analysis to determine what it really showed. But one quick glance gave the scientists at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory the most important message of all: from 135 million miles in space, their spacecraft, Mariner IV, had sent home the first closeup portrait man has ever made of the far-off planet Mars.

While all the world watched and waited, the ambitious timetable of U.S. space exploration had been put to its...

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