July 14, 2006
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
NASA 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.
Viking 1 was launched August 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars 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
September 9, 1975, and entered Mars orbit August 7, 1976. The Viking
2 lander touched down at Utopia Planitia September 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. “We were both terrified and exhilarated.
All of us exploded with joy and pride when we saw that we had indeed
“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. Measurements of the atmosphere and surface of
Mars obtained by the orbiters and landers are still being analyzed
Viking provided the first measurements of the atmosphere and surface
of Mars. 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. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory built the orbiters, provided
the deep space network and managed the science mission. NASA’s Glenn
Research Center, Cleveland, designed the Atlas/Centaur rockets 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.
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