Fifty years ago on a mid-December day, NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft sailed close to the shrouded planet Venus, marking the first time any spacecraft had ever successfully made a close-up study of another planet. The flyby, 36 million miles (58 million kilometers) away from Earth, gave America its first bona fide space "first" after five years in which the Soviet Union led with several space exploration milestones. Designed and built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the successful Mariner 2 spacecraft ushered in a new era of solar system exploration.
"JPL has always attempted to do mighty things on behalf of NASA and our nation," said JPL director Charles Elachi. "Achieving America's first 'first in space' is among the lab's proudest achievements."
In celebration of the anniversary, an interactive presentation highlighting 50 years of planetary exploration is available online at: