Viking 40th Anniversary


Viking In exploration there are great moments of
success, and moments of set-back. Lasting memories forever etched into our combined
experience that forge a stronger resolve to reach new heights and explore the unknown. As we gaze off into the solar system, something
in our humanity pushes us, to move forward. “… We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers
still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at
last to set sail for the stars.” And liftoff the Atlas V with Curiosity. Seeking clues to the planetary puzzle about life on Mars. NASA has been on a journey of exploration
for more than half a century. A journey to Mars. From Mariner to Phoenix from Curiosity to
the MAVEN and beyond, we’ve placed the marks of human exploration and ingenuity on and
around the red planet. Forty years ago NASA’s Viking Project found
its place in history. July 20th, 1976 Viking 1 was the first human
probe to land on the surface, return images and data, and conduct science experiments
on Mars. Viking was a bold step for its time and a
huge undertaking for NASA. NASA employees, contractors and industry across
the country designed the elements of this project. Viking consisted of two identical spacecraft:
with a payload of a lander and an orbiter in each, Viking 1 and 2 were launched in August
and September of 1975. Each orbiter-lander pair flew together and
entered Mars orbit; the landers then separated and descended to the planet’s surface for
their planned 90 day missions. Viking 1 was originally targeted to land on
July 4th, 1976, our nation’s bicentennial – but images from the orbiter showed the
planned landing site to be too rocky. After reconsidering the options a new site was selected
and Viking 1 touched down on July 20th – 7 years to the day after the Apollo 11 crew
touched down on the Moon. The landers took photographs and collected
science data on the Martian surface. The scientific consensus from the Viking experiments
was that Mars is self-sterilizing due to solar ultraviolet radiation, extreme dryness of
the soil and the oxidizing nature of the soil chemistry. The search for life on Mars came
up empty. But valuable data about Mars, both from the
surface and from orbit was gathered. The orbiter-lander duos out paced their 90-day missions with
the four spacecraft operating between 2 and 6 years. The Viking 1 lander was the longest-lived
of the group – making its final transmission to Earth on
November 11th, 1982. Today, our orbiters and rovers have changed
the way we look at Mars and continue to make unprecedented scientific discoveries while
also answering long-held questions about Mars and its relationship to Earth, our solar system
and beyond We are working hard to develop the systems
and technologies humankind will use to one day live and work on the Red Planet, and safely
return home. “If I have seen further, it is by standing
upon the shoulders of giants” The eventual first human footsteps on Mars
have as their stepping-stones the vital robot explorers that paved the way for the journey
to Mars.

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