Spoiler alert: For astronaut Mark Whatney, former Martian, it was a bad trip. Upon his safe return to terra firma he tossed his helmet away, breathed deeply and said, “Fuck space.”
He was still an adventurer, though, so two years later was exploring the depths of the deepest oceans on Earth when he was accidentally left behind.
There he was forced to grow seaweed and sea cucumbers and survive on oxygen he derived from shells and Bunsen burners.
Mark Whatney had become The Crustacean.
I won’t spoil that ending, either, but he did eventually return to space travel.
Venus: Whatney daringly visits the second planet in our solar system and his faceplate is briefly blown loose during an EVA. Yes, you guessed it. He becomes The Venetian Blinded.
His eyesight eventually returned and he went on to visit Uranus, but I have absolutely nothing to say about that trip.
Early in the morning at 09:26:16 Universal Time (UT) on July 27, 1962, the Mariner 1 spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
293 seconds later the Range Safety Officer issued the command to destroy the vehicle after it had veered off course. It was determined that steering the vehicle was impossible due to a malfunction and a crash was eminent, possibly in shipping lanes or an inhabited area.
The command to destroy the vehicle came only six seconds prior to the point of no return after which separation would take place and destruction would no longer be possible. The radio transponder continued to transmit signals for 64 seconds after the destruct command had been sent.
The mission of the Mariner 1 was the first ever flyby of the planet Venus. Mariner 1, if successful, would have went on to by the first man-made object to fly by another planet and would have performed missions like measure the temperatures of the clouds and surface of Venus as well as fields and particles near the planet and in interplanetary space.
Luckily there was a backup. Mariner 2 was launched just five weeks later and completed the mission and became the world’s first successful interplanetary spacecraft on December 14, 1962, when it passed within 34,833 kilometers from the surface of Venus.
This incident may not ring a bell for most people, but if you are a computer programmer chances are slightly better that you may have heard about it. It turns out that the reason Mariner 1 was a single misplaced character in a computer program!
A hyphen, a hyphen. My kingdom for a hyphen!
According to the NASA web site, “the Mariner 1 Post Flight Review Board determined that the omission of a hyphen in coded computer instructions in the data-editing program allowed transmission of incorrect guidance signals to the spacecraft.”
I feel for that computer programmer. I really do. Been there done that. 🙂
For a variety of reasons the exact cause remains murky to this day although the Post Flight Review Board did issue a finding it was at least in part due to a hyphen.
And I thought my job was high pressure. 🙂
Click here if you’d like to learn more about what we know about the failure of Mariner 1.