Workshop: Discussion of Billy Marino's Paper, "Seeing Mars: How the First Close-Up Images of Mars Reshaped Understanding of the Red Planet’s Environment in the 1960s"

Event Date: 

Saturday, June 3, 2023 - 11:00am to 12:30pm

Event Date Details: 

Saturday, June 3, 2023- 11:00-12:30 pm

Event Location: 

  • West Campus Point Faculty Housing Outdoor Plaza

Event Price: 


Event Contact: 

Addie Jensen (

On Saturday, June 3, the Center for Cold War Studies and International History (CCWS) and the Cold War Working Group (CWWG) will host an in-person workshop from 11:00-12:30 pm at the West Campus Point faculty housing community's outdoor plaza. We will be reading and discussing a paper, "Seeing Mars: How the First Close-Up Images of Mars Reshaped Understanding of the Red Planet’s Environment in the 1960s," by Billy Marino, a doctoral candidate in the UCSB History Department. Please join us for light refreshments and an exciting discussion of this work! 


In the mid-1960s, with the space race between the United States and Soviet Union in full swing, NASA and JPL’s Mariner program gathered some of the first close-up images of other planetary bodies.  Paired with other scientific data collecting experiments these images helped scientists create the most detailed knowledge to date of environments outside Earth. In 1965, Mariner IV, the first of these missions to capture such images, returned twenty-two black-and-white photographs of the Martian surface. They revealed a mostly cratered landscape, which shattered analogies between Mars and Earth that framed much of human perception of the red planet. By 1971, subsequent Mariner missions revealed more of the planet’s surface and returned more subtle Earth-Mars comparisons to popularity. While histories of Martian exploration often document this initial shift away from the Earth-Mars analogy, it is as brief as the period following Mariner IV when some feared the Martian environment was more like the Moon’s. On the other hand, the importance of visuals for creating knowledge of distant environments is well-worn territory, typically more focused on Earth-bound landscapes and deeply intertwined with the practices of art history which unpack how artists expressed meaning through framing, style, and other choices.

This paper places the first close-up photographs of Mars in the context of astronomy and planetary science imaging in this period, analyzing how these scientific, or “informational” images created knowledge of the Martian environment. Since ground-based photographs of Mars remained blurred from atmospheric interference, little was known about the Martian surface and Mariner IV’s missions included few decisions regarding framing. Instead, the JPL Television Team focused their efforts on simply photographing the surface at all and transmitting those images over the long distance from Mars to Earth, an unprecedented feat that tested fledging imaging technology. Many of the key interpretive decisions occurred in the process of turning the received data into viewable images, which required editing to reduce things like “noise” and highlight relevant structures in the photographs. I argue that these first close-up images of Mars mediated human understanding of the Martian environment by revealing unexpected surface features while substantiating the possibility that we can know another planet through photography similar to how we know environments on Earth. Analyzing the photographs – how they were captured and edited – and their reception when presented in technical reports, scientific journals, and the press, I contend that these images were integral in making photography a crucial element in understanding space and other planets as places with environments.

Workshop attendees are encouraged to read Billy's paper in advance. They may gain access to it, and receive other information about the event, by contacting Addie Jensen at






Billy Marino, Doctoral Candidate 

Horizon of Mars, Mariner 4, 1965, Hand Colored







Horizon of Mars, Mariner 4, 1965, Hand Colored