The <strong>Mariner 4 Spacecraft</strong> (Mariner-Mars 1964) was the first spacecraft to beam back up-close pictures of another planet. Its sister ship, Mariner 3, were lost in its attempt just weeks before.
What many people do not realize is that Mariner 4 was almost lost before it was launched. The spacecraft was built to exacting tolerances. Nothing extra was allowed. Not only size, but weight of every piece was calculated and accounted for by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA. At a huge cost the twin space craft were build, minus any paint. They did not need to protect the metal from rain or oxidization in space! But then it came to earth testing. Bright lights were pointed at it to test the first cameras in space… and the reflection off the metal was terrible!
NASA and JPL requested a aeronautical troubleshooter from Northrup Corporation. The call was answered in the form of one E. C. Tait (E. Clayton Tait) whom coworkers just called “Tait”. The solution, paint it flat black! Problem Two, NASA had not counted on any weight for paint! They had just half an ounce! Abrasion was not a problem, but no one had ever applied paint so thinly before.
Well JPL and NASA continued their testing, TAIT worked two months designing and building an air-brush capable of painting that thin (before air-brushes existed!) and then he spent another month teaching himself how to use it! Needless to say he was a success and an unsung hero of the JPL team.
NASA introduced a Check Step in the design and engineering where everything (like forgetting paint) would be looked at at least twice by two groups. Half ounce of paint had almost destroyed what was arguably the boldest space mission of that time. The reason was each group had only focused on its own module and not the spacecraft as a whole. The JPL engineers started calling this extra check, the “Tightly Aligned Integrated Technology” Check, or TAIT Check.