Feature

Where It All Began
06.16.06
An image showing artists' renditions of the Viking orbiter, the Viking lander and a proposed Mars flyer
Long before there were Spirit and Opportunity, there was Viking.

Image to right: The anniversary conference will feature discussions of the past, present and future of Mars exploration. Credit: NASA

The two rovers currently exploring Mars are sending back exciting new information from the Red Planet, but their way was paved 30 years ago by the two Viking landers.

NASA's Langley Research Center, which managed the Viking project, is kicking off the celebration of Viking's 30th anniversary with a June 22 conference featuring several members of the original Viking team. The symposium, which will be available by audio webcast for the public, will feature past, present and future Mars exploration.

Viking photo showing a portion of the spacecraft and the surrounding Martian terrain
Viking was NASA's most ambitious Mars mission and the agency's first to include a landing on the Red Planet. The Viking project actually included two separate missions to Mars. Each Viking spacecraft consisted of an orbiter and a lander. Viking 1 arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976, with the first lander touching down on July 20. Viking 2 entered orbit around Mars on Aug. 7. Its lander touched down on Sept. 3.

Image to left: The Viking 2 lander was surrounded by late winter frost when it landed on Mars. Credit: NASA

The Viking orbiters captured images of the surface from space, and relayed signals from the landers to Earth. The two stationary landers sent back information on the appearance and physical properties of the Martian surface and atmosphere. "The four spacecraft operated as planetary laboratories for over a calendar year, sending significant scientific information about Mars," said Gus Guastaferro, head of the Viking 30th Reunion Committee. Before the last Viking spacecraft stopped transmitting, over six years after the first landing, the Viking project sent back a wealth of information about the Red Planet.

Related Resources
+ Viking Anniversary Conference

+ Viking: Mission to Mars

+ Mars Exploration Program

+ On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958-1978
The public is invited to participate in the conference via audio webcast at http://www.nasa.gov/langley. The conference will last from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 22, 2006 (with a one-hour break at noon). The symposium will feature three segments. The first will focus on the Viking mission, and will discuss the program and its legacy. The topic of the second part will be current exploration of Mars, including both orbiter and lander missions. Future Mars exploration will be the subject of the final portion. NASA officials will discuss both planned robotic missions to the Red Planet and eventual human exploration of Mars.

The Viking Project was managed by Langley Research Center, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory managing the orbiter. Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center) was responsible for the launch vehicle. Kennedy Space Center managed the launch operations. Many universities provided scientists to analyze the data. Lockheed Martin was the prime contractor. "Some 10,000 individuals across the country participated in the development, test and operation of the four spacecraft," Guastaferro said.

As two rovers continue to explore Mars today, and as NASA plans to send two more landers to Mars before the end of the decade, the Viking anniversary conference will provide a great opportunity to look back at where NASA's exploration of the Martian surface began.

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services