NASA's Marks 30th Anniversary of Mars Viking Mission
Thirty years after the first successful landing on Mars by NASA's
Viking spacecraft, the ambitious mission continues to evoke pride and
enthusiasm for future space exploration.
NASA's Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, each consisting of an orbiter and
a lander, became the first space probes to obtain high resolution images of
the Martian surface; characterize the structure and composition of the
atmosphere and surface; and conduct on-the-spot biological tests for
life on another planet.
Image right: The boulder-strewn field of red rocks reaches to the horizon nearly two miles from Viking 2 on Mars' Utopian Plain. Image credit: NASA+ Full image and caption
Viking 1 was launched Aug. 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976.
On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched
down at Chryse Planitia. Viking 2 was launched Sept. 9, 1975, and entered
Mars orbit Aug. 7, 1976. The Viking 2 lander touched down at Utopia
Planitia on Sept. 3, 1976.
"The Viking team didn't know the Martian atmosphere very well, we had almost
no idea about the terrain or the rocks, and yet we had the temerity to try
to soft land on the surface," recalled Gentry Lee, Solar System Exploration
chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Lee was
the science analysis and mission planning director for the Viking mission.
"We were both terrified and exhilarated. All of us exploded with joy and
pride when we saw that we had indeed landed safely."
"The Viking mission looms like a legendary giant, an incredible success against
which all present and future missions will be measured," said Doug McCuiston,
Mars Exploration Program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Originally designed to function for 90 days, the Viking spacecraft continued
collecting data for more than six years. The landers accumulated 4,500 up-close
images of the Martian surface. The accompanying orbiters provided more than
50,000 images, mapping 97 percent of the planet.
Viking provided the first measurements of the atmosphere and surface of Mars.
These measurements are still being analyzed and interpreted. The data suggested
early Mars was very different from the present day planet. Viking performed
the first successful entry, descent and landing on Mars. Derivations of a Viking-style
thermal protection system and parachute have been used on every U.S. Mars lander mission,
including Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., managed the Viking Program. NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed by the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, Calif., built the orbiters, provided the deep space network and managed
the science mission. NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, designed the Titan/Centaur
launch vehicles that propelled the spacecraft on their journey. NASA's Kennedy Space
Center, Fla., provided the launch facility for the program. Scientists from across
NASA served on the Viking science teams.
For more information about Viking, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/viking
For information about NASA and agency programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/home
Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown/Erica Hupp 202-358-1726/1237
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Marny Skora 757-864-3315
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.