The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Friday, August 10, 2012

Looking Back At NASA's First Mars Lander Photos: Viking

Parachute and propulsion for landing. Some similarities. All photos courtesy of NASA
Now that Curiosity has landed successfully and sent back its first color photos from Gale crater, let's look back and see how it was done in 1976 when the Viking lander sent back its first color photos. Launched on August 20, 1975, the Viking 1 lander (followed 3 weeks later by Viking 2) blasted off on a 300 day trip to the "Red Planet." Like Curiosity, Viking made a propulsive landing ... but without a Sky Crane and without avoidance computers that would keep it from landing on the nearby rock nicknamed "Big Joe." Had Viking 1 hit "Big Joe," the exploration would have ended before it had begun. Viking Project Manager Jim Martin stated they just had a lot of luck. That was quite different from the Curiosity approach, which came down in an intelligent system that was able to finesse the landing in quite a small zone close to a mountain Viking could not have hoped to land anywhere near in the 1970s. In the second picture, the Bicentennial symbol on the lander takes me back.

First color photo from Viking 1 in 1976. Photo courtesy of NASA

The rock that could have ended it all is to the right. Photo courtesy of NASA

Living with a science new correspondent as a father made for exciting moments. One morning I work up at 2 in the morning with Dad rushing out the door. I asked him what was up and he responded, "They may have found life on Mars." This was based on Viking readings that remain somewhat enigmatic to this day.

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