#80-3070 by D. Penland
First Spacecraft to Operate on the Surface of Mars
| Date of Milestone:
July 20, 1976
| Operated By:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
| Spacecraft Location:
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Milestones
of Flight Gallery
Two Viking landers were the first spacecraft
to conduct prolonged scientific studies on the surface of another
planet. Viking 1 began its 10-month journey to Mars on August 20,
1975. Viking 2 followed on September 9. After entering Mars orbit,
the spacecraft orbiters conducted photographic surveys of the planet's
surface to assist in the search for safe landing sites. Viking 1
landed on July 20, 1976; Viking 2 landed on September 3.
Instruments aboard the spacecraft provided
valuable information on the Martian atmosphere and surface. Biological
experiments on the Viking landers did not detect signs of life or
any of the organic compounds that are abundant on Earth.
The Viking 1 Mars lander continued to transmit
photographs and other data periodically from the Martian surface
until November 1982, almost 6 1/2 years after its 1976 landing.
The Viking 2 lander ceased operating in April 1980.
The object on display is a "proof test article"
used on Earth before and during the Viking missions to simulate the
behavior of the actual landers on Mars.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
formally transferred ownership of the Viking 1 lander on Mars to
the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
That lander is virtually identical to the "proof test article" displayed
in the museum.
On January 7, 1981, NASA Administrator Robert
A. Frosch formally renamed the Viking 1 lander on Mars the Thomas
A. Mutch Memorial Station. The designation honors NASA's fourth
associate administrator for the Office of Space Science and the
former leader of the Viking Lander Imaging Science Team. Mutch disappeared October 6, 1980, while climbing in the Himalayas.
Transferred from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
||3 m (10 ft)
||2 m (6 ft 6 in)
||3 m (10 ft)
||576kg (1,270 lb)
||Martin Marietta for NASA