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Viking Spacecraft

Viking spacecraft, Utopia Planitia, final transmission, planet Mars, space probe

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Viking (spacecraft), first space probe to survive landing on the surface of the planet Mars. Launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Viking was the most extensive and complex mission ever to explore Mars and included several experiments designed to test for life on Mars.

The Viking mission used two identical spacecraft to orbit and land on Mars. NASA launched Viking 1 on August 20, 1975, and Viking 2 on September 9, 1975. Each Viking spacecraft consisted of an orbiter, carrying a variety of imaging and remote sensing instruments to study Mars from orbit, and a lander, designed to operate on and intensively study the planet's surface. It took each spacecraft almost a year to reach Mars—Viking 1 went into orbit around Mars on June 19, 1976, and Viking 2 on August 7, 1976. Viking 1 landed on Mars on July 20, 1976, on the western slope of Chryse Planitia. Viking 2 set down September 3, 1976, at Utopia Planitia, 6460 km (4014 mi) from Viking 1.

The Viking spacecraft continued to function long past their planned 90-day mission. The Viking 2 orbiter ran out of fuel for its attitude-control system (the system that keeps the craft's solar panels pointed at the sun) and shut down on July 25, 1978; Viking's controllers on the earth were able to keep the Viking 1 orbiter functioning until August 7, 1980. The last data from the Viking 2 lander were received on the earth on April 11, 1980, and the Viking 1 lander made its final transmission on November 11, 1982.


Tatarewicz, Joseph N., M.A., Ph.D.

Independent historian. Author of "Space Technology and Planetary Astronomy".

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