The European Space Agency broadcast the livestream with views courtesy of its Mars Express, launched by a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan in 2003.
It took nearly 17 minutes for each picture to reach Earth, nearly 200 million miles (300 million kilometers) away, and another minute to get through the ground stations.
The transmission was disrupted at times by rainy weather at the deep space-relay antenna in Spain.
Still, enough images made it through to delight the European space officials hosting the hourlong livestream. The first views of Mars showed roughly one third. As the spacecraft circled Mars, the images gradually became larger. In some shots, white clouds were clearly visible.
“Sitting on Mars Express, this would be what you’d see,” explained Simon Wood. He is the spacecraft operation engineer for the Mars Express mission. “We typically don’t normally get images in this way.”
Pictures and other data usually are stored aboard the spacecraft and later transmitted to Earth, according to Wood, when the spacecraft’s antenna can be pointed this way.
Near real-time footage from so far away is “rather rare,” according to ESA. ESA cited the Apollo moonwalkers’ live broadcasts of more than 50 years ago, and more recent live footage from spacecraft intentionally crashing into an asteroid and the moon.
“These missions were all pretty close to home and others farther away sent perhaps an image or two in near real-time. When it comes to a lengthy livestream from deep space, this is a first,” ESA said in a statement before the event.
Rain on Spain’s plains reduced the number of images shown. ESA only devoted an hour of the livestream to avoid overloading the batteries on the spacecraft.
Mars Express traveled to the red planet with a lander, dubbed Beagle-2, which lost contact with Earth as it attempted to touch down on the Martian surface.
More than a decade later, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured pictures of Beagle-2. The lander didn’t unfold its solar panels fully, even though it reached the surface.
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