Viking Spacecraft

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NASA’s Viking program consisted of two unmanned space missions to Mars: Viking 1 and Viking 2. Each Viking Spacecraft consisted of an orbiter and a lander. The Orbiter designed to image the surface of Mars from orbit and to act as a communication relay for the Viking lander that each mission carried. Viking 1 was launched on 20 August 1975 and Viking 2 was launched on 9 September 1975.

Viking Spacecraft

Viking 1

Viking 1 was the first of two spacecraft sent to Mars as part of NASA’s Viking program. It was launched by a Titan/Centaur launch vehicle on 20 August 1975 on a 10 month cruise to Mars. The Viking 1 Orbiter was inserted into Mars orbit on 19 June 1976.

Landing on Mars was planned for July 4, 1976 on day of the United States Bicentennial, however the  imaging of the primary landing site showed it was too rough for a safe landing and the landing was delayed until a safer site was found. The Viking 1 Lander separated from the orbiter on 20 July, 1976 at 08:51 UT and landed at 11:56:06 UT.

The primary mission of the orbiter ended at the beginning of solar conjunction on 5 November 1976. The extended mission started on 14 December 1976 after solar conjunction. On 7 August 1980 Viking 1 Orbiter was running low on altitude control gas and its orbit was raised to prevent impact with Mars and possible contamination until the year 2019. Operations were terminated on August 17, 1980 after 1485 orbits.

The lander and its aeroshell separated from the orbiter on July 20. The Viking 1 Lander landed in western Chryse Planitia (named Gold Field) at 22.697° N latitude and 48.222° W longitude. The lander operated for 2245 sols, until 13 November 1982, when a faulty command sent by ground control resulted in loss of contact. In 2006 the Viking 1 lander was imaged on the Martian surface by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.


Viking 2

The Viking 2 mission was part of the Viking program to Planet Mars and consisted of an orbiter and a lander essentially identical to that of the Viking 1 mission. The Viking 2 spacecraft was launched on September 9, 1975 on a Titan/Centaur launch vehicle on a 333 day cruise to Mars. The orbiter was inserted in Mars orbit on August 7, 1976.

The lander separated from the orbiter on September 3, 1976 and landed at Utopia Planitia at 22:37:50 UT. Normal operations called for the structure connecting the orbiter and lander (the bioshield) to be ejected after separation, but because of problems with the separation the bioshield was left attached to the orbiter. The orbit inclination was raised to 75 degrees on 30 September 1976.

The orbiter primary mission ended at the beginning of solar conjunction on 8 November 1976. The extended mission started on 14 December 1976 after solar conjunction. The orbiter developed a leak in its propulsion system that vented its attitude control gas. It was placed in a 302 × 33176 km orbit and turned off on 25 July 1978 after returning almost 16,000 images in 706 orbits around Mars.

The lander and its aeroshell separated from the orbiter on 3 September 19:39:59 UT. The Viking 2 Lander landed about 200 km west of the crater Mie in Utopia Planitia at 48.269 ºN 225.990º W. The Viking 2 lander operated on the surface for 1281 Mars days and was turned off on April 11, 1980 when its batteries failed.


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