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Viking Lander

A Viking Lander model in the Death Valley desert, with popular scientist Dr. Carl Sagan
A Viking Lander model in Death Valley, CA, with renowned popular scientist Dr. Carl Sagan (now deceased). Photo credit: NASA/JPL.
The Viking 1 lander was the first spacecraft ever to land successfully on Mars. Through the historic two missions of the Viking project, a total of over 50,000 images of Mars were collected (with 4,500 coming from the landers), with both orbiters and landers sending back information that changed everything scientists thought they knew about the Red Planet.

Specs
Launch date: Viking 1 - August 20, 1975
; Viking 2 - Sept. 9, 1975
Launch vehicle: Titan IIIE/Centaur rocket
Mars arrival date: July 20, 1976 (Viking 2 arrived Sept. 3, 1976)
Launch mass: 572 kilograms (1,261 pounds)
for the lander alone
Total project cost: about $1 billion
Power: 70 watts of electrical power came from two radioisotope thermal generators

History
An image of the surface of Mars, taken by Viking Lander 2
A view of Mars' Utopian Plain, photographed by Viking Lander 2. Courtesy of NASA/JPL.

Before the Viking launches in the mid-1970s, our knowledge of Mars was extremely limited. The team of scientists assembled for the Viking project had to figure out how to land and navigate a spacecraft on a planet with almost no prior knowledge of what the surface would be like. Prior to the Viking missions, the Soviets had tried to land spacecrafts on Mars, and although one of their crafts seems to have made it to the surface, it lost contact with Earth before landing and may have crashed.

Tthe Viking project, however, was an amazing success. The Viking program, of which the lander was a part, gathered data and images about our nearest planetary neighbor that changed the way we see Mars. In fact, before Viking, scientists thought the Martian sky would be a deep blue, like our upper atmosphere, but early photos from Viking revealed Mars's salmon-colored sky for the first time.

Made up of two sets of spacecraft, each including an orbiter and a lander, Vikings 1 and 2 together mapped about 97% of Mars from orbit and collected about 4,500 close-up images of the Martian surface. In addition to cameras, the landers carried equipment to analyze the Martian soil, wind and atmosphere and send the results back to Earth. Though the spacecraft were designed to function about 90 days once at Mars, they kept collecting and sending data for over six years. One of the main goals of the Viking program was to find out if life had ever existed on Mars. Though the missions didn't find evidence of life, they determined that many of the necessary ingredients for life were present on the planet, leaving the question tantalizingly unanswered.

Subsequent missions to Mars, including Mars Pathfinder, the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the recently launched Mars Science Lab (also known as rover Curiosity), build on the technology created for the Viking missions, as well as the information collected by the Viking orbiters and landers. Even 35 years later, data and results from the Viking missions are stll being analyzed.

The Science Center's Viking Lander
The Viking lander on display at the Science Center is a full-scale engineering model, on loan to us from Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Viking and Mars Links
Viking: Mission to Mars
This page from NASA includes links to lots of information about the original Viking missions and spacecraft, as well as details on how knowledge from the Viking program has influenced other Mars missions and a link to the Viking Image Archive.

Solar System Exploration: Viking 01
In this section of the NASA site, find out how the Viking 1 mission fits onto the overall history of solar system exploration, from the U.S. and NASA and beyond. Missions can be searched by name, planetary target, nation or year. Don't miss the companion page for Viking 02.

Mars Science Laboratory
For the latest news on NASA's most recent venture to Mars, check out this site from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. You'll find videos, games and even an Ask Dr. C. page, where you can submit your questions about Mars to a computerized scientist.

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