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Viking 2

By Marty McDowell/NASA

On September 9, 1975, the United States launched Viking 2. The Vikings were the first robotic spacecraft to land on Mars. Their mission was to determine whether life had ever existed in any biological form on the red planet.

The first pair of orbiters and landers, Viking 1, was launched on August 20, 1975, followed on September 9 of that year by the second set, dubbed Viking 2. The initial job of both orbiters was to find suitable landing sites for the landers. Later, the orbiters recorded images of the entire surface of Mars, providing informative pictures of volcanoes, lava plains, immense canyons, cratered areas, and valleys. The Viking landers transmitted images of the surface, took samples and analyzed them for composition and signs of life, studied atmospheric composition and meteorology, and deployed seismometers.

NASA

This image was acquired at the Viking Lander 2 site.

Image courtesy of NASA.

 

Each spacecraft consisted of an orbiter and a lander. After orbiting Mars and returning images used for landing site selection, the orbiter and lander detached and the lander entered the martian atmosphere and soft-landed at the selected site. The orbiters continued imaging and other scientific operations from orbit while the landers deployed instruments on the surface. The fully fueled orbiter-lander pair had a mass of 3530 kg. After separation and landing, the lander had a mass of about 600 kg and the orbiter 900 kg. The lander was encased in a bioshield at launch to prevent contamination by terrestrial organisms. The total cost of the Viking project was roughly one billion dollars.

The Viking mission was planned to continue for 90 days after landing. Each orbiter and lander operated far beyond its design lifetime. Viking Orbiter 1 functioned until July 25, 1978, while Viking Orbiter 2 continued for four years and 1,489 orbits of Mars, concluding its mission August 7, 1980. Because of the variations in available sunlight, both landers were powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators -- devices that create electricity from heat given off by the natural decay of plutonium. That power source allowed long-term science investigations that otherwise would not have been possible. The last data from Viking Lander 2 arrived at Earth on April 11, 1980. Viking Lander 1 made its final transmission to Earth November 11, 1982.

Source: NASA.

 

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Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.

 

SPACE SPECS

Courtesy of NASA

Launched: September 9, 1975

Destination: Mars

Arrival: August 7, 1976

Return

Nation: U.S.

Mission: Mars orbit and lander.


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