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Composite three-part image -- Viking orbiter (left), Viking lander (center) and Ares
+ NASA Home > Centers > Langley Home > Langley Events


Thirty Years ... and Mars Still Beckons

Thirty years ago, NASA's Viking landers made history by descending from orbit to the surface of the Red Planet. They were the first probes from Earth to land intact on Mars -- and the first American spacecraft to land on another planetary body since Apollo.

Viking 1 and its sister ship Viking 2 revealed an alien world comprised of sterile soil and eerie salmon-colored skies. They answered the probing question -- No life on Mars... at least not in the two areas where the spacecraft landed.

The first color image from the surface of Mars, taken by Viking lander 1 on July 21, 1976
Image above: The first color image from the surface of Mars. This picture was taken by the lander's number two camera on July 21, 1976, the day following Viking l's successful landing on Mars. The local time on Mars is approximately noon. Select the image for more information. Credit: NASA

Working steadily for years beyond their planned life expectancy, the landers accumulated 4,500 up-close images of the Martian surface. Their partner spacecraft high above -- the Viking orbiters -- snapped over 50,000 images, mapping 97 percent of the Martian globe. Successful in so many ways, Viking is best remembered for the first space probes to conduct on-the-spot biological tests for life on another planet.

Viking blazed the trail for future Mars missions. Mars Pathfinder, the Sojourner rover, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey continued to prepare the way. The darlings of Mars exploration, the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, captured the attention of young and old with their antics. The most recent mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in August 2005, arrived at the Red planet in March making it the fourth active satellite currently focused on Mars.

NASA's march across the sparse yet alluring planet continues. More inquisitive craft are on the drawing boards. Perhaps one will solve the mystery of what happened to the planet's water. Perhaps one will deliver the ultimate scientific explorer: humans.

And when humans finally arrive on Mars, they'll find a pair of dusty pioneers already there -- the Viking landers that blazed the trail for all to follow.

+ NASA's Viking Site

 A Viking mission image showing frost on Mars
Viking Links
Viking blazed the trail for NASA's explorations of Mars.
+ NASA's Viking Site
+ Viking Fact Sheet
 The ARES Mars airplane explorer, artist concept
Mars Airplane
Aerial Regional-Scale Environmental Survey (ARES) of Mars mission proposal.
+ ARES Web Site
 An artist's rendition of the Viking lander
Where It All Began
A conference will kick off the 30th anniversary of Viking, NASA's first Mars-landing mission.
+ Read More
 Mars for Educators
Mars for Educators
Information about classroom resources and activities, as well as education programs and educator workshops.
+ Visit the Mars for Educators site
 ImagineMars logo
Imagine Mars
The Imagine Mars Project seeks to inspire young people to first imagine and then design a livable community for 100 people on the planet Mars.
+ Visit the Imagine Mars site
 Viking 1 lander first image from Mars
Viking: Mars Trailblazer
Thirty years ago, Viking arrived at Mars and gave us our first views from the surface of the red planet.
+ View Video (Captioned Quicktime, 11.6M)
 John Newcomb
John Newcomb
Excerpt from interview with Viking manager John Newcomb. Streaming QuickTime.
+ John Newcomb Interview
+ Captioned Interview
 Robert H. Tolson
Robert H. Tolson
Interview with Robert H. Tolson. Streaming QuickTime.
+ Tolson Interview
 Israel Taback
Israel Taback
Interview with Viking deputy project manager Israel Taback. Streaming QuickTime.
+ Israel Taback Interview
+ Captioned Interview
 Norm Crabill
Norm Crabill
Interview with Norm Crabill. Streaming QuickTime.
+ Norm Crabill Interview
 Bill Boyer
Bill Boyer
Interview with Bill Boyer. Streaming QuickTime.
+ Boyer Interview
+Captioned Interview
 Angelo 'Gus' Guastaferro
Angelo 'Gus' Guastaferro
Interview with 'Gus' Guastaferro. Streaming QuickTime.
+ Guastaferro Interview
+ Captioned Interview

 Viking 2 lander panorama
Viking 30th Anniversary Conference Agenda
Thursday, June 22, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., EDT, at NASA Langley's Reid Conference Center.
+ Read More

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Editor: Bob Allen
NASA Official: Brian Dunbar
Last Updated: April 22, 2008
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