DMNS To Celebrate Viking Mission

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

August 12, 2016 – The Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of NASA’s Viking Mission. At the August 25th event, former Viking program scientists and engineers will discuss the challenges and triumphs of working on the program, and how the findings have continued to shape our understanding of Mars.

Two identical spacecraft (Viking 1 and Viking 2), each consisting of a nuclear-powered lander and a solar-powered orbiter, were built. Each orbiter-lander pair entered the Mars orbit in mid-1976; the landers then separated and descended to the planet’s surface. Viking 1 became the first successful landing on Mars by a U.S. spacecraft when it reached the Martian surface on July 20, 1976.

Both orbiters and landers returned a treasure trove of observations for several years. The Viking spacecraft collected high-resolution imagery of Mars, characterized the structure and composition of the planet’s surface, and analyzed the Martian soil for signs of life. 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.

Viking 1 and 2 were the most complex missions of their time. In partnership with NASA and the Langley Research Center, Lockheed Martin (then Martin Marietta) designed, built and tested the two landers at its Waterton Canyon facility near Denver. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, of Pasadena, California built the orbiters for the mission.

Lockheed Martin developed new technology to build the robotic arms used to collect surface samples, an array of testing instruments and flight software, and the aeroshell for each lander, which protected them as they plunged through the unknown atmosphere of Mars. The Titan IIII rockets that launched the Vikings were also built by Lockheed Martin at the same Denver facility.

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 DMNS Viking event will be held in the Phipps Theater on August 25, at 7:00 p.m. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit:

http://www.dmns.org/learn/adults/after-hours/nasas-viking-project/