Viking 1

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Viking 1
Viking spacecraft.jpg
Viking orbiter
Mission type orbiter and lander
Operator NASA
COSPAR ID Orbiter:1975-075A
SATCAT № Orbiter:8108
Website Viking Project Information
Mission duration orbiter:1846 days (1797 sols)
lander:2306 days (2245 sol)
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer Orbiter:NASA JPL
Lander:Martin Marietta
Launch mass Orbiter:883 kg (1,947 lb)
Lander:572 kg (1,261 lb)
Power Orbiter:620 W
Lander:70 W
Start of mission
Launch date 21:22, August 20, 1975 (1975-08-20T21:22)[1][2]
Rocket Titan IIIE/Centaur
End of mission
Last contact November 13, 1982 (1982-11-13)
Orbital parameters
Reference system Areocentric
Mars orbiter
Spacecraft component Viking 1 Orbiter
Orbital insertion June 19, 1976[3][1]
Orbit parameters
Periareion 320 km (200 mi)
Apoareion 56,000 km (35,000 mi)
Inclination 39.3°
Mars lander
Spacecraft component Viking 1 Lander
Landing date July 20, 1976[1]
11:53:06 (MSD 36455 00:34 AMT)
Landing site 22°29′N 49°58′W / 22.48°N 49.97°W / 22.48; -49.97 (Viking 1 lander)[1]

Viking 1 was the first of two spacecraft (along with Viking 2) sent to Mars as part of NASA's Viking program.[1] On July 20, 1976, it became the first spacecraft to land successfully on Mars and perform its mission.[4] Viking 1 held the record for the longest Mars surface mission of 2307 days[1] or 2245 sols[1] until that record was broken by Opportunity on May 19, 2010.[5]


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.


The instruments of the orbiter consisted of two vidicon cameras for imaging (VIS), an infrared spectrometer for water vapor mapping (MAWD) and infrared radiometers for thermal mapping (IRTM).[6] The orbiter primary mission ended at the beginning of solar conjunction on November 5, 1976. The extended mission commenced on December 14, 1976, after solar conjunction. Operations included close approaches to Phobos in February 1977. The periapsis was reduced to 300 km on March 11, 1977. Minor orbit adjustments were done occasionally over the course of the mission, primarily to change the walk rate — the rate at which the areocentric longitude changed with each orbit, and the periapsis was raised to 357 km on July 20, 1979. On August 7, 1980, Viking 1 Orbiter was running low on attitude control gas and its orbit was raised from 357 × 33943 km to 320 × 56000 km to prevent impact with Mars and possible contamination until the year 2019. Operations were terminated on August 17, 1980, after 1485 orbits.


Viking Aeroshell
Model of Viking Lander

The lander and its aeroshell separated from the orbiter on July 20 08:51 UTC. At the time of separation, the lander was orbiting at about 5 km/s. The aeroshell's retrorockets fired to begin the lander deorbit maneuver. After a few hours at about 300 km altitude, the lander was reoriented for atmospheric entry. The aeroshell with its ablative heat shield slowed the craft as it plunged through the atmosphere. During this time, entry science experiments were performed by using a retarding potential analyzer, a mass spectrometer, as well as pressure, temperature, and density sensors.[6] At 6 km altitude, traveling at about 250 m/s, the 16 m diameter lander parachutes deployed. Seven seconds later the aeroshell was jettisoned, and 8 seconds after that the three lander legs were extended. In 45 seconds the parachute had slowed the lander to 60 m/s. At 1.5 km altitude, retrorockets on the lander itself were ignited and, 40 seconds later at about 2.4 m/s, the lander arrived on Mars with a relatively light jolt. The legs had honeycomb aluminum shock absorbers to soften the landing.[6]

The landing rockets used an 18-nozzle design to spread the hydrogen and nitrogen exhaust over a large area. NASA calculated that this approach would mean that the surface would not be heated by more than one degree Celsius, and that it would move no more than 1mm of surface material. Since most of Viking's experiments focused on the surface material a more straightforward design would not have served.

The Viking 1 Lander touched down in western Chryse Planitia ("Golden Plain") at 22°41′49″N 48°13′19″W / 22.697°N 48.222°W / 22.697; -48.222 at a reference altitude of −2.69 km relative to a reference ellipsoid with an equatorial radius of 3397.2 km and a flatness of 0.0105 (22.480° N, 47.967° W planetographic) at 11:53:06 UT (16:13 local Mars time). Approximately 22 kg of propellants were left at landing.

Transmission of the first surface image began 25 seconds after landing and took about 4 minutes (see below). During these minutes the lander activated itself. It erected a high-gain antenna pointed toward Earth for direct communication and deployed a meteorology boom mounted with sensors. In the next 7 minutes the second picture of the 300° panoramic scene (displayed below) was taken.[7] On the day after the landing the first color picture of the surface of Mars (displayed below) was taken. The seismometer failed to uncage, and a sampler arm locking pin was stuck and took five days to shake out. Otherwise, all experiments functioned normally. The lander had two means of returning data to Earth: a relay link up to the orbiter and back, and by using a direct link to Earth. The data capacity of the relay link was about 10 times higher than the direct link.[6]

First "clear" image ever transmitted from the surface of Mars - shows rocks near the Viking 1 Lander (July 20, 1976). The haze on the left is possibly dust that had recently been kicked up by the landing rockets. Because of the "slow scan" facsimile nature of the cameras, the dust since settled by mid-image.

The lander had two facsimile cameras, three analyses for metabolism, growth or photosyntheses, a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, pressure, temperature and wind velocity sensors, a three-axis seismometer, a magnet on a sampler observed by the cameras, and various engineering sensors.[6]

The Viking 1 Lander was named the Thomas Mutch Memorial Station in January 1982 in honor of the leader of the Viking imaging team. The lander operated for 2245 sols (about 2306 Earth days or 6 years) until November 11, 1982, (sol 2600), when a faulty command sent by ground control resulted in loss of contact. The command was intended to uplink new battery charging software to improve the lander's deteriorating battery capacity, but it inadvertently overwrote data used by the antenna pointing software. Attempts to contact the lander during the next four months, based on the presumed antenna position, were unsuccessful.[8] In 2006 the Viking 1 lander was imaged on the Martian surface by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.[9]

Mission results[edit]

Search for life[edit]

Viking carried a biology experiment whose purpose was to look for evidence of life. The Viking spacecraft biological experiments weighed 15.5 kg (34 lbs) and consisted of three subsystems: the pyrolytic release experiment (PR), the labeled release experiment (LR), and the gas exchange experiment (GEX). In addition, independent of the biology experiments, Viking carried a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GCMS) that could measure the composition and abundance of organic compounds in the martian soil.[10] The results were surprising and interesting: the GCMS gave a negative result; the PR gave a negative result, the GEX gave a negative result, and the LR gave a positive result.[11] Viking scientist Patricia Straat stated in 2009, "Our (LR) experiment was a definite positive response for life, but a lot of people have claimed that it was a false positive for a variety of reasons."[12] Most scientists now believe that the data were due to inorganic chemical reactions of the soil; however, this view may be changing after the recent discovery of near-surface ice near the Viking landing zone. Some scientists still believe the results were due to living reactions. No organic chemicals were found in the soil. However, dry areas of Antarctica do not have detectable organic compounds either, but they have organisms living in the rocks.[13] Mars has almost no ozone layer, unlike the Earth, so UV light sterilizes the surface and produces highly reactive chemicals such as peroxides that would oxidize any organic chemicals.[14] The Phoenix Lander discovered the chemical perchlorate in the Martian soil. Perchlorate is a strong oxidant so it may have destroyed any organic matter on the surface.[15] If it is widespread on Mars, carbon-based life would be difficult at the soil surface.

First panoramic view by Viking 1 from the surface of Mars.

Viking 1 image gallery[edit]

Test of general relativity[edit]

High-precision test of general relativity by the Cassini space probe (artist's impression)

Gravitational time dilation is a phenomenon predicted by the theory of General Relativity whereby time passes more slowly in regions of lower gravitational potential. Scientists used the lander to test this hypothesis, by sending radio signals to the lander on Mars, and instructing the lander to send back signals, in cases which sometimes included the signal passing close to the Sun. Scientists found that the observed Shapiro delays of the signals matched the predictions of General Relativity.[16]

Orbiter shots[edit]

Lander location[edit]

Tharsis Montes Hellas Planitia Olympus Mons Valles Marineris Arabia Terra Amazonis Planitia Elysium Mons Isidis Planitia Terra Cimmeria Argyre Planitia Alba MonsMap of Mars
Interactive imagemap of the global topography of Mars, overlain with locations of Mars landers and rovers. Hover your mouse to see the names of prominent geographic features, and click to link to them. Coloring of the base map indicates relative elevations, based on data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor. Reds and pinks are higher elevation (+3 km to +8 km); yellow is 0 km; greens and blues are lower elevation (down to −8 km). Whites (>+12 km) and browns (>+8 km) are the highest elevations. Axes are latitude and longitude; note poles are not shown.
Spirit (2004) > Spirit
Opportunity (2004) > Opportunity
Pathfinder < Sojourner (1997)
Viking 1 (1976) > Viking 1
Viking 2 (1976) > Viking 2
Phoenix < Phoenix (2008)
Mars 3 < Mars 3 (1971)
Curiosity (2012) > Curiosity
Beagle 2 < Beagle 2 (2003)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Williams, David R. Dr. (December 18, 2006). "Viking Mission to Mars". NASA. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Viking 1". NASA. 
  3. ^ Nelson, Jon. "Viking 1". NASA. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ The Soviet Union's Mars 3 landed successfully on December 2, 1971 but stopped transmitting after 14.5 seconds.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e Soffen, G.A.; Snyder, C.W. (August 1976). "The First Viking Mission to Mars". Science, New Series. 193 (4255): 759–766. doi:10.1126/science.193.4255.759. JSTOR 1742875. 
  7. ^ Mutch, T.A.; et al. (August 1976). "The Surface of Mars: The View from the Viking 1 Lander". Science, New Series. 193 (4255): 791–801. doi:10.1126/science.193.4255.791. JSTOR 1742881. 
  8. ^ D. J. Mudgway (1983). "Telecommunications and Data Acquisition Systems Support for the Viking 1975 Mission to Mars" (PDF). NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  9. ^ "NASA Mars Orbiter Photographs Spirit and Vikings on the Ground". NASA. 2006. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  10. ^ Malin Space Science Systems Archived October 20, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Viking Data May Hide New Evidence For Life. Barry E. DiGregorio, July 16, 2000.
  12. ^ Viking 2 Likely Came Close to Finding H2O. Archived September 30, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Irene Klotz, Discovery News, Sept. 28, 2009.
  13. ^ Friedmann, E. 1982. Endolithic Microorganisms in the Antarctic Cold Desert. Science: 215. 1045–1052.
  14. ^ Hartmann, W. 2003. A Traveler's Guide to Mars. Workman Publishing. NY NY.
  15. ^ Alien Rumors Quelled as NASA Announces Phoenix Perchlorate Discovery. Archived September 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. A.J.S. Rayl, August 6, 2008.
  16. ^ Reasenberg, R. D.; Shapiro, I. I.; MacNeil, P. E.; Goldstein, R. B.; Breidenthal, J. C.; Brenkle, J. P.; et al. (December 1979). "Viking relativity experiment - Verification of signal retardation by solar gravity". Astrophysical Journal Letters. 234: L219–L221. Bibcode:1979ApJ...234L.219R. doi:10.1086/183144. 

External links[edit]