Viking 1 Orbiter

Viking 1 Orbiter

Courtesy of NASA

Viking 1 and Viking 2 were identical two-part spacecrafts launched about 3 weeks apart. Each orbiter—lander flew together as a unit until it reached orbit with Mars. An onboard camera helped select a suitable landing site. The landers then detached from the orbiters and each landed in a different area of the Martian surface. Because of a fuel leak in Viking 2’s orbiter and battery failure in Viking 2’s lander, Viking 1 outlasted Viking 2, but both missions far exceeded their planned 90-day time period for gathering data.

August 20, 1975

(orbiter) June 19, 1976; (lander) July 20, 1976

End of Mission
(orbiter) August 17, 1980; (lander) November 13, 1982

Obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface, characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface, and search for evidence of life.

Both Viking 1 and Viking 2 took images of the entire surface of Mars. Analysis of the landing-site soils showed these areas to be rich in iron, but found no signs of life. Volcanoes, lava plains, huge canyons, craters, wind-formed features, and evidence of surface water were seen in the Viking orbiter images. The planet was found to have two main regions, low plains in the north and cratered highlands in the south. The craft measured temperatures from -123ºC to -23ºC (-189ºF to -1ºF). The Vikings also observed seasonal dust storms, pressure changes, and movement of atmospheric gases between the polar caps.