Hypercosmos | The First Spacecraft On Mars - Viking 1

The First Spacecraft On Mars - Viking 1

Apr 26, 2022

Viking 1 was a mars orbiter and lander that landed on the red planet in 1975, at Chryse Planitia, 22.27°N 312.05°E. The Viking 1 would last until its unfortunate demise in 1982 due to human error.

The First Spacecraft On Mars - Viking 1

Construction of the Viking spacecraft was done primarily by the private company Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin). The team worked for six years to build the ground-breaking spacecraft. The Martin Marietta team developed fantastic new technologies just for the Viking mission, including innovative flight software and an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer instrument to test chemical compounds in the soil.

The purpose of the Viking 1 mission had two-parts. The first was to investigate Mars and to search for signs of potential alien life. The second was for the Viking 1 orbiter to take high-definition images of Mars and to study the Martian atmosphere and planet’s surface.

The planned mission was for 90 sols, 1 sol is approximately equal to 24 hours 39 minutes and 35 seconds Earth time or 1 Martian day, the mission ended up spanning over 6 years before mission end on the 11th of November 1982, giving 2642 days of launch to last contact to the lander, over 20 times as long as expected.

The launch of the Viking 1 Lander on the 20th of August 1975 at 9:22 pm Coordinated Universal Time at complex 41, Cape Canaveral was the start of the first successful lander/rover mission to the red planet, Mars. The following 334 days of interplanetary travel ended with a 5-day period before orbit intersection, allowing images of Mars to be returned to earth. The Viking 1 orbiter was put into Mars orbit on the 19th of June 1976 and later landed on the planet on the 10th of July 1976 after finding a suitable landing area.

The mission came down to the last 7 minutes of landing. In those crucial 7 minutes, the spacecraft would have to slow down from 14,400 kilometers per hour, or about 40 football fields per second to 0 in about 160 kilometers to make a soft landing. The landing had to be done autonomously as communications between earth and the Viking 1 orbiter took about 14 minutes. Viking 1 landed on Mars on the 20th of July 1976; 11:53 and 6 seconds, at Chryse Planitia, 22.27°N 312.05°E.

The landing of Viking 1 required a supersonic parachute that would decrease the speed by about 90 percent, but at that speed you would still be much too fast. At about 2 kilometres above the Martian surface the Viking 1 short range radar would tell on board computers to separate from the back shell of the parachute, after separation the Viking 1 lander would deploy rockets slowing the decent until there would be a 2 and a half meters a second landing.

The Viking 1 lander had 2 ways of sending information back to earth, a relay link up to the orbiter and a direct earth link. The orbiter had a S-band transmitter, 2,000 to 16,000 bps, depended on distance between Earth and Mars. The lander could transmit at 16,000 bps to the orbiter. The information capacity between the relay link was about 10 times higher than the direct Earth link.

The lander had many sensors onboard including two facsimile cameras, three analyses sensors for metabolism, growth or photosynthesis sensors, an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, pressure, temperature and wind velocity sensors, a magnet on a sampler observed by the cameras, a three-axis seismometer and various engineering sensors. These various sensors allowed many streams of data to be broadcasted back to Earth and allowed the first close up images of the Martian surface. The first being an image of the lander’s landing pad and the rocks surrounding it.

In the coming years Viking 1 lander served as a weather station for the planet and took photographs of the planet’s 2 moons, Deimos and Phobos. The Viking 1 orbiter mapped areas of Mars and analyzed virous large expanses of the planet. The lander on the surface of Mars continued to look for signs of life with different experiments, but to no avail.

On the 17th of August 1980, the Viking 1 orbiter shutdown after a depletion of altitude control fuel, and the Viking 1 lander followed 2 years later on the 13th of November 1982 from a human error during a software update causing the landers antenna to go down, terminating power and communications. The end cost of the project costed roughly 5 billion US dollars.

The Viking 1 Lander was renamed the Mutch Memorial Station in memory of Dr. Thomas A. Mutch, former Viking Lander Imaging Team leader, and former Associate Administrator of NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications. Dr. Mutch disappeared during an attempt to climb Nun Kun, peak in the Himalayas, in September 1980.