NASA Launches Mars Probe Viking 1

Viking 1 was the first of two spacecraft sent to Mars as part of NASA's Viking program.

It was the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars and perform its mission, and held the record for the longest Mars surface mission of 6 years and 116 days (from landing until surface mission termination, Earth time) until that record was broken by the Opportunity Rover on May 19, 2010.

Following launch using a Titan/Centaur launch vehicle on August 20, 1975 and a 10-month cruise to Mars, the orbiter began returning global images of Mars about 5 days before orbit insertion. The Viking 1 Orbiter was inserted into Mars orbit on June 19, 1976 and trimmed to a 1513 x 33,000 km, 24.66 h site certification orbit on June 21. Landing on Mars was planned for July 4, 1976, the United States Bicentennial, but imaging of the primary landing site showed it was too rough for a safe landing. The landing was delayed until a safer site was found. The lander separated from the orbiter on July 20 08:51 UTC and landed at 11:53:06 UTC. It was the first attempt by the United States at landing on Mars.

NASA's Viking Mission to Mars was composed of two spacecraft, Viking 1 and Viking 2, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander. The primary mission objectives were to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface, characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface, and search for evidence of life. Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975 and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. The first month of orbit was devoted to imaging the surface to find appropriate landing sites for the Viking Landers. On July 20, 1976 the Viking 1 Lander separated from the Orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia (22.48° N, 49.97° W planetographic, 1.5 km below the datum (6.1 mbar) elevation). Viking 2 was launched September 9, 1975 and entered Mars orbit on August 7, 1976. The Viking 2 Lander touched down at Utopia Planitia (47.97° N, 225.74° W, 3 km below the datum elevation) on September 3, 1976. The Orbiters imaged the entire surface of Mars at a resolution of 150 to 300 meters, and selected areas at 8 meters. The lowest periapsis altitude for both Orbiters was 300 km. The Viking 2 Orbiter was powered down on July 25, 1978 after 706 orbits, and the Viking 1 Orbiter on August 17, 1980, after over 1400 orbits. The Orbiter images are available from NSSDC on CD-ROM and as photographic products. These images have been converted to digital image mosaics and maps , and these are also available from NSSDC on CD-ROM. An index giving the latitude and longitude of each Viking Orbiter image is available at the Viking FTP site. The Viking Landers transmitted images of the surface, took surface samples and analyzed them for composition and signs of life, studied atmospheric composition and meteorology, and deployed seismometers. The Viking 2 Lander ended communications on April 11, 1980, and the Viking 1 Lander on November 13, 1982, after transmitting over 1400 images of the two sites. Many of these images are also available from NSSDC online and as photographic products.

The results from the Viking experiments give our most complete view of Mars to date. Volcanoes, lava plains, immense canyons, cratered areas, wind-formed features, and evidence of surface water are apparent in the Orbiter images. The planet appears to be divisible into two main regions, northern low plains and southern cratered highlands. Superimposed on these regions are the Tharsis and Elysium bulges, which are high-standing volcanic areas, and Valles Marineris, a system of giant canyons near the equator. The surface material at both landing sites can best be characterized as iron-rich clay. Measured temperatures at the landing sites ranged from 150 to 250 K, with a variation over a given day of 35 to 50 K. Seasonal dust storms, pressure changes, and transport of atmospheric gases between the polar caps were observed. The biology experiment produced no evidence of life at either landing site.