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Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Special Edition: Viking 40th Anniversary


Mars is hard. Forty years ago this week, our Viking mission found a place in history when it became the first U.S. mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars and return images of the surface. This is astonishing considering that many of the spacecraft destined for Mars failed before completing their missions and some failed before their observations could begin.

Here’s a few things to know about the Viking missions that ushered in a new era of Mars explorations 40 years ago:

1. Multi Mission


The Viking mission consisted of four spacecraft – two orbiters and two landers. All four made significant science discoveries.

2. Last Minute Switch


The spacecraft eventually named Viking 2 was supposed to launch first, but a battery problem prompted us to send the second spacecraft first. Batteries recharged, Viking 2 was then sent to rendezvous with the Red Planet.

3. Not Quite the First


Viking 1 was the first to send back science from the surface of Mars, but the honor of the first Mars landing goes to the Soviet Union’s Mars 3. The Soviet spacecraft landed on Mars in December 1970, but sent back only 20 seconds of video data before going silent.

4. Viking 1 Quick Stats


Viking 1 was launched Aug. 20 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia.

5. Viking 2 Quick Stats


Viking 2 was launched Sept. 9, 1975, and entered Mars orbit Aug. 7, 1976. The Viking 2 lander touched down at Utopia Planitia on Sept. 3, 1976.


For more information about the Viking missions, and to celebrate the 40th anniversary, check out our list of events HERE.

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE. 

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