40 Years On Mars

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July 1, 2016 – NASA has sent several landers and rovers to learn about the atmosphere and surface of Mars over the past few decades and have learned a lot about the planet. The agency is even planning a future crewed mission using the Orion spacecraft. But much of the technology that enables these missions has its roots in a program known as Viking. Viking performed the first successful entry, descent and landing on Mars.

In 1969, NASA chose Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) as the principal industrial contractor for Project Viking. The company was tasked with designing and building two Viking Mars landers, the entry systems, and the Titan III and Centaur rockets.

This image shows a Viking lander being lowered into a thermal-vacuum chamber near Denver. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

This image shows a Viking lander being lowered into a thermal-vacuum chamber near Denver. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

The twin Viking spacecraft were sent to Mars at a time when very little was known about the planet. NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 missions, 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 data was the first to suggest that early Mars was very different from the present day planet.

The original landing date for Viking 1 was supposed to be on the nation’s bicentennial, July 4, 1976, but the original landing site appeared too rough and the team decided to give itself extra time to find a suitable landing site.

On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander first settled onto the rocky Martian surface, and a few weeks later, Viking 2 did the same. The pair of spacecraft were originally designed to function for 90 days, but continued collecting data for nearly six and a half years. The landers accumulated 4,500 up-close images of the Martian surface. The accompanying orbiters provided more than 50,000 images and mapped 97 percent of the planet.

The surface of Mars as seen from the Viking 2 lander. Image Credit: NASA

The surface of Mars as seen from the Viking 2 lander. Image Credit: NASA

On July 16, visitors to the Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver, Colorado, can meet with some of the team members who helped make Viking such a successful program. Team members will include those who served in roles from Science and Engineering to Testing and Mission Operations from the many institutes and NASA Centers that designed, built and operated all three craft – Titan IIIE, Orbiters and Landers. NASA Langley managed the Viking program from 1968 to 1978.

In addition, Steve Albers, Senior Research Associate at NOAA & CIRA and Viking Intern from 1976, will be presenting a 3D immersive Mars experience with custom integrated Viking and Curiosity surface information using HiRise imagery. Lockheed Martin representatives will also be on hand to share current and past Mars exploration history and plans.

From 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. the public can meet:

  • The real Viking Mission Team Members who served on the first mission to Mars’ surface. Team members served in roles from Science and Engineering to Testing and Mission Operations from the many institutes and NASA Centers that designed, built, and operated all three craft – Titan IIIE, Orbiters, and Landers

  • Award winning Space Authors/Journalists Leonard David and Andy Chaikin will be there to autograph books and share their insights with the public (bring your copy to sign)

  • Dr. Jim Rice of Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity will talk about the mission including current findings

  • Alejandro M. San Martin, JPL, Chief Engineer for the Guidance and Control

  • Matthew Reyes, maker, scientist, innovator and explorer shares a visual documentary of his experience

  • Founders of the Mars Underground and Case for Mars Conferences will share their history

  • Experience

  • Lockheed Martin will share current and past Mars exploration history and plans

  • Mars Challenge activities fun for the whole family provided by The Space Foundation

  • Steve Albers, Senior Research Associate at NOAA & CIRA and Viking Intern from 1976, will be presenting a 3D immersive Mars experience with custom integrated Viking and Curiosity surface information using HiRise imagery

  • The National History Day 2016 Junior Division State Finalists from WI share their Viking documentary film

  • Students from the University of Colorado Boulder will share their experiences on student based NASA science and engineering projects, rocketry and more

  • Talented 3D modelers and artists share their technical and artistic renderings inspired by Viking

  • Bring your friends, relatives and teachers to this action packed day to remember!

    For more information about this event, visit:

    http://wingsmuseum.org/event-calendar/viking-mars-missions-education-preservation-project/