Celebrating Viking: four decades of landers on Mars

The first successful Mars lander – part of the Viking 1 mission – touched down on the Red Planet 40 years ago.

Viking 1 consisted of an orbiter and lander, and was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It was followed a few months later by the identical Viking 2.

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And while they found Martian soil today couldn’t sustain life, the missions were ultimately great successes. 

Over four years and 1,489 orbits, planetary scientists learnt Mars is self-sterilising. Solar ultraviolet radiation drenches the surface and dries the soil, and the chemical makeup of the soil prevents any life from forming.

Powered by the slow radioactive decay of plutonium, Viking’s final transmission to Earth was on 11 November 1982 – operating for far longer than the expected 90 days. 

In 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped the Viking landers’ final resting places.

The Viking mission wasn’t the first to land craft on Mars. In the early 1970s, Soviet landers made it to the Red Planet but crashed on the surface.

One – Mars 3 – managed to transmit data to Earth a few seconds after it landed, then died.

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