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30th Anniversary of Viking Landing on Mars 201

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the little-green-men dept.
ewhac writes "30 years ago today, mankind paid our first visit to Mars. Viking 1 made its powered landing on the red planet on 20 July 1976 at 05:12 after an 11-month flight. Images and data from the probe were soon seen all over Earth as we got our first close-up look at our planetary neighbor. Viking 2 landed a few weeks later. Like the Pathfinder rovers that followed in 1997, Viking was expected to last but a short time -- only three months -- but instead continued to gather and return data for six years."
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30th Anniversary of Viking Landing on Mars

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  • Humans? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WinEveryGame (978424) * on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:38PM (#15754073) Homepage
    So, when will humans get there?
  • by Joebert (946227) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:39PM (#15754083) Homepage
    Viking was expected to last but a short time -- only three months -- but instead continued to gather and return data for six years

    They just don't build them like they used to.
    I can't even get a computer to last 3 months, let alone 6 years.
    • Re:Built to last (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cherita Chen (936355)
      Man oh man... Are you aware that there are currently two rovers on the surface of Mars that were slated to operate for 90 sols (Mars days which are roughly equal to an earth day)? Are you aware that both of those rovers have now been operational for over two years? Your comment is funny, but you sure chose a strange context in which to make your joke.

      And I've got to ask, what do you do to your computers that kills them in three months? Take em swimming?

  • by RelliK (4466) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:44PM (#15754095)
    Those vikings! First they colonized North America. Now we find out they went to Mars too! They were one tough bunch! Masters of intergallactic navigation.
  • by laing (303349) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:46PM (#15754103)
    July 20th, 1969 was the first manned lunar landing. To me, this is a more significant anniversary than Viking.
  • by Saven Marek (739395) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:49PM (#15754114)
    OK the article starts with "The solar system had welcomed its first interplanetary visitor from Earth, a triumphant moment that marked the start of mankind's efforts to probe its neighbor planet for signs of life and set the sights for every Martian mission to follow." So why is this, when russians sent many probes to mars beforehand? Admittedly none of them the success of Viking but russians still reached the surface first. This stinks.

    My cousin was even taught at school that Sally Ride was the first woman into space when this is patently untrue. Why the revisionism? is it just for the sake of a good first few paragraphs or is it something worse?

    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @10:20PM (#15754249)
      So why is this, when russians sent many probes to mars beforehand?

      However, all of them crashed except for Mars 3, which sent data from the surface for a total of 20 seconds before permanently dying. You may be technically correct, but they didn't achieve anything meaningful on the surface before the Viking probes. (As far as flyby missions, both countries had sent prior probes.) Therefore, the article summary really isn't the affront to history that you make it out to be.

      • by tsa (15680) on Friday July 21, 2006 @01:37AM (#15754785) Homepage
        Therefore, the article summary really isn't the affront to history that you make it out to be.

        It is. The Russions were there first. Doesn't matter how many seconds later their craft died. See here [astrodigital.org] for a nice overview of missions to Mars. Took me a while to find it since NASA doesn't talk about anyone else but themselves... Not exactly rewriting history but fishy nonetheless.
      • by Saven Marek (739395) on Friday July 21, 2006 @01:42AM (#15754800)
        You may be technically correct, but they didn't achieve anything meaningful on the surface before the Viking probes. (As far as flyby missions, both countries had sent prior probes.) Therefore, the article summary really isn't the affront to history that you make it out to be.

        Except the article summary says "The solar system had welcomed its first interplanetary visitor from Earth" which is also completely wrong, as the USSR had reached venus in 1970, and venus is still part of the solar system. It landed safely, and sent back data. Venera 7, 8, 9 and 10 all landed on venus and sent back data before viking touched down on mars.

      • The U.S.S.R. though did have the most extensive studio of Venus that has ever been done. It's not so much that they failed at Mars, but rather that they weren't that interested.
    • by windowpain (211052) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @11:07PM (#15754383) Journal
      I really don't think it's revisionism. I think it's ignorance. For the last couple of decades teaching has attracted more and more undergrads well below the 50th percentile in their graduating classes. I've known and spoken with a number of teachers. Their ignorance is blood-curdling.
    • Also, Viking wasn't even the first probe to land on a planet. The Russians put a probe on Venus, and it did manage to transmit data before being destroyed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera_7 [wikipedia.org]
    • I don't believe that the Russians did get a Mars lander before Viking.

      I think that they did get several to Venus though although the extreme conditions of Venus meant that relatively little data was returned. Unfortunately the best Russian lander managed to survive for just a couple of hours, and I belive that a freak accident prevented its main experiment from working. It was intended to sample the soil and analyse its makeup, sadly the heat shield appears to have fallen off under the scope and prevented i
    • Yea..but the Russian sent a probe to land on VENUS which in my view is MUCH more a kick ass achievement. AND it transmitted for at least 45 min before melting?

      Venus

      Temps: 900+ degree
      Pressures: Don't have figures..but it will definitely make your ears pop :)
      Weather: It rains sulfuric Acid

      Venus is as close to literal Hell as you can get (without trying to land on the sun). I want to see NASA design a craft to land on VENUS.
      • The thing is, compared to Mars, Venus isn't very interesting. It's not expected to harbor life, or to have ever harbored life, and otherwise it's not a place we expect to send a person. We can learn plenty from Venus by parking a observational satellite in orbit around it.

        Mars, however, we might actually want to go there.

        Besides, if you want a real technical challenge, lets land a navigable rover on Jupiter. I mean, one that doesn't automatically sink to it's rocky core. Venus is a cakewalk.
    • My cousin was even taught at school that Sally Ride was the first woman into space when this is patently untrue.


      If the textbook or the teacher's guide actually said that, then I think your cry of "revisionism" is justified. Otherwise, it would seem that it's most likely that either your cousin misheard or misrememebred, or the teacher is a dumbass.
    • My cousin was even taught at school that Sally Ride was the first woman into space when this is patently untrue. Why the revisionism? is it just for the sake of a good first few paragraphs or is it something worse?

      As far as I'm aware of, the Russians bet us in every space race contest. If we really wanted to be honest in our history books, we'd have the names of Russians as the First Humans doing X in space. A text book like that wouldn't sell in the US. It might sell in Europe, India, China, or Japan. I'd
  • Oops (Score:5, Informative)

    by Graymalkin (13732) * on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:53PM (#15754132)
    The posted /. story is confusing the Mars Pathfinder [nasa.gov] mission and the Mars Exploration Rover [nasa.gov] mission. The Pathfinder mission was in 1997. The MERs landed in January of 2004 and is still running, far beyond the expected lifetime of the rovers.
    • In general, I think the "slashdot was wrong" posts are pointless. Never trust anything you read on slashdot. Half the posters are confused, half the posters are wrong, and half the posters are lying.

      However, in this case Slashdot is partially correct. Mars Pathfinder carried the Sojourner Rover, which according to the robot hall of fame [robothalloffame.org]:

      The flight team lost communication with the Sojouner September 27, after 83 days of daily commanding and data return. In all, the small 10.5 kilogram (23 lb) Sojouner ope

  • Dont forget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 20, 2006 @09:54PM (#15754134)

    http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html [nasa.gov]

    Still running and still producing valuable data
    reliability is what companies should really strive for, consumer throw-away disposable culture is a nasty disease and the sooner its extinct the better
    • While I agree with the point I think you're trying to make, I think pointing towards a space vehicle that was launched on top of a multi-billion-dollar (in todays dollars), single use, throwaway rocket booster as a counterpoint to "throw away culture" is probably a mistake.

      After all, the Titan III which launched the Viking had a fueled pad weight of around (based on Wikipedia's mass figures) 384,241 kg; the scientific payload of the lander, which when you get right down to it is the sole purpose for the res
      • Re:Dont forget (Score:5, Informative)

        by NormalVisual (565491) on Friday July 21, 2006 @02:49AM (#15754939)
        the scientific payload of the lander, which when you get right down to it is the sole purpose for the rest of the stuff existing, was 91 kg

        That's kind of a misleading statement - the payload within the lander was 91 kg, but that's totally discounting the scientific value of the orbiter, and while obviously the lander existed only as a platform for the science, I wouldn't have considered it "disposable" in the same sense that the launch vehicle was. On the other hand, without the orbiters we probably would never have heard the name "Richard Hoagland" either, so I guess there's balance in all things.

        Practically, boosting 3500+ kg to escape velocity and successfully sending it a distance of over 200 million miles in 10 months using a grand total of less than 381K kg isn't inefficient by any existing earth-bound measurement. To drive the same distance in a car would require 30 million pounds in fuel alone, and that assumes the car is getting better gas mileage than most.

        Finally, the launch vehicle itself accounted for a very small portion of the total cost of the Viking program, and was nowhere near a "multi-billion dollar" expenditure. Even today, the heaviest variant of the Atlas V (961K kg, and *much* more powerful than the Titan III-Centaur that took the Vikings up) costs about $130 million per launch. Hell, even the Shuttle is substantially less than a billion per launch. The only launch vehicle that I can think of that remotely qualifies on that level of cost is the Saturn V, but that's an entirely different beast altogether, and was very expensive mostly because of the very small number of vehicles that were built. That wasn't the case with the Titan III.
    • You deserve a +6 if there was ever such a thing.

      I couldn't possibly agree more - it sickens me, society is so wasteful compared to just 15 years ago when I was a boy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You know what's even more amazing is how the Vikings managed to cross the vast distance on a wind-powered raft.

    "...bloody Vikings..." -Monty Python
    • Re:Transport vehicle (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279)

      You know what's even more amazing is how the Vikings managed to cross the vast distance on a wind-powered raft.

      I know that this is a joke, but the fact is that the sailing achievements of the historical Vikings across the Atlantic were not especially unusual. They simply knew how to make short hops from island to island. If the colonization of Easter Island had happened from the South American mainland, as Thor Heyerdahl set out to demonstrate in that old classic Kon-Tiki [amazon.com] , then that would have been som

    • The Viking landers didn't use wind power to get to Mars, they used SPAM (tm)!

      SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM! Wonderful SPAM!

      Note: SPAM (all caps) is a trademark of Hormel.
  • OK, I feel old now. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bsartist (550317) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @10:32PM (#15754283) Homepage
    I remember seeing these amazing photos from Viking, Apollo, and Skylab missions when I was little. Been a fan of the space program ever since, and it's kind of sad to see the bureaucratic monster that NASA has become these days. Yeah, they do lots of neat stuff still - but I think they could do so much more if it weren't for the organizational mess down there. Hopefully private competition from Rutan et al will shake things up a bit.
    • I guess it's easy to pick on a government funded research facility and call it overly bureaucratic, but doing the kinds of things they do involves thousands of engineers, quite often solving problems for the very first time. After they do this they hand off the results of their research to the private sector. Maybe even companies like Scaled Composites, the Spaceship One people.
      • I guess it's easy to pick on a government funded research facility and call it overly bureaucratic, but doing the kinds of things they do involves thousands of engineers, quite often solving problems for the very first time.

        When I refer to NASA as "beaurocratic", I'm not talking about the engineers. I have tons of respect for the guys and gals "in the trenches" at NASA. They are the reason I believe that NASA could accomplish so much more - if it weren't for the beaurocracy above them.

        Obviously some ma

  • NSIWT (Score:4, Funny)

    by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @11:24PM (#15754432) Journal
    I remember working in SFOF in Pasadena during the landing. Pretty magic. Walter Cronkite was there, lots of SF luminaries.

    One of my favorite memories was a Xerox'ed cartoon of a lovely sylvan setting, Viking 1 parked by a meandering stream, three-eared rabbits running by, trees.... and a two-headed eagle flying away with the high-gain antenna.

  • Unforgettable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by istartedi (132515) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @11:54PM (#15754514) Journal

    I was actually home from school that day, and young enough to be glued to the screen as the images came in slllllowly as thin strips. Young enoug so that I seriously wondered if there would be ruins of ancient Martian cities visible on screen. Alas, no, but it's still a fond memory. Of course this makes me feel old, but hey, at least I was a kid. Wow, if you were an adult when this happened, you must be really old. Yeah. I'll keep telling myself that.

    • Re:Unforgettable (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      I remember when the morning paper came with the first images from the surface. I expected it to look moon-like because of the dark skies used in all the pre-landing press-release illustrations. Instead it showed a brightish sky. With the rocks and sand-like dunes and the pole to hold up the science intruments looking like an umbrella stem, it looked like a rocky beach. "Son of beach!" somebody shouted. Somebody else joked that it took a vacation to a remote beach, skipping Mars. "Lucky damned probe", they s
  • line by line (Score:3, Interesting)

    by colfer (619105) on Friday July 21, 2006 @12:04AM (#15754547)
    The pictures came in, over live network TV, one vertical line at a time. From left to right it took several minutes, as I recall it, maybe longer. No image from the planet's surface had ever been seen before. And you just knew it was going to be more interesting than the surface of the Moon. But despite the live coverage, I don't recall much public interest. Apollo and Skylab had petered out. Watergate maybe. Little unmanned dingbats going to the outer planets, and later Hubble, seemed to get more antention. But I always prefered the "you were there" quality of Viking's pictures from Mars. It was obvious a person could walk around in that landscape, with enough warm clothing.
    • I remember sitting there in front of the TV also- was AWESOME!
      The lateest rover pics have brought back that same spellbinding feeling.
      Amazing accomplishments, and I feel good being a witness for them.
      Inspirational stuff!
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday July 21, 2006 @12:31AM (#15754638) Homepage Journal
    You know the ads are bogus script tricks when a Google search turns up an ad that says, "Compare prices on Viking Mars Landers and save!". For NASA, it is a little too late to think about that.
    • Well, how do you know there isn't a market for Viking Mars Landers, huh? HUH?

      Why, just the other day I got an offer from the President of Nigeria himself offering me several used Viking Mars Landers at a bargain price. I just need to post a deposit, and he'll sell me several of those relics from the Nigerian Space Program. I've been thinking about it, but I think I will take the rival offer of pristine, still-in-box Mars Global Surveyors from China instead...
    • I had an opportunity to bid for a Viking Lander on eBay. You mean it's bogus?
  • First picture! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Friday July 21, 2006 @12:38AM (#15754651) Homepage Journal
    http://home.pacbell.net/vyzamora/Mars%20Picture.jp g [pacbell.net]

    Okay, seriously, this is the first image:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Mars_first_land er_image.gif [wikipedia.org]

    Caption: "This is the first image ever transmitted from the surface of Mars. It was taken only a few minutes after landing. Engineers decided to program the probe to quickly take and send an image of a footpad because it was feared that earlier Soviet probes may have sank into quicksand because they stopped transmitting shortly after touchdown. If Viking met the same fate, they wanted to know about it this time. Some speculate that the cloudiness on the left side is due to dust left over from the landing. The cameras scanned one vertical strip at a time such that by the time the scanning moved to the center of the image, the dust had allegedly settled."
  • by BTWR (540147) <americangibor3@yah o o .com> on Friday July 21, 2006 @12:52AM (#15754686) Homepage Journal
    Too bad the "Nuclear=Bad" hippies pressured NASA to not let us use nuclear power on any spacecraft capable of receiving solar power. Imagine if Pathfinder lasted a decade. The Rovers now are greatly surpassing their expectations, but too bad there's no backup nuke-powered battery to allow them to drive until 2016...
    • Power was provided by two radioisotope thermal generator (RTG) units containing plutonium-238 affixed to opposite sides of the lander base and covered by wind screens. Each generator was 28 cm tall, 58 cm in diameter, had a mass of 13.6 kg and provided 30 W continuous power at 4.4 volts. Four wet cell sealed nickel-cadmium 8 Ah, 28-volt rechargeable batteries were also onboard to handle peak power loads.

      From wikipwedia

      It must be bad how the world isn't what you think it is. Read some Hume please

      ciao

    • The rovers are designed to move, so with dust devils cleaning their solar panels I suspect they'll eventually die from mechanical breakdowns, not due to lack of power. The Viking landers weren't designed to move around so were much less prone to mechanical breakdown.

      RTGs really make more sense for missions where you're reasonably sure the hardware will last 10+ years and solar panels are not an option.

      • The rovers are designed to move, so with dust devils cleaning their solar panels I suspect they'll eventually die from mechanical breakdowns, not due to lack of power.

        Except that right now, Spirit is parked on a South-facing slope, not moving due to lack of power. If solar power is inadequate to power a roving rover through Martian winter right near the equator, imagine how inadequate it would be near the poles. Yes, the rovers weren't intended to survive the winter, let alone rove during the winter,

  • by mshurpik (198339)
    >Like the Pathfinder rovers that followed in 1997, Viking was expected to last but a short time -- only three months -- but instead continued to gather and return data for six years."

    Right, because someone goes out at night and wipes the dust off the solar panels.
    • Re:dust removal (Score:5, Informative)

      by ColaMan (37550) on Friday July 21, 2006 @06:00AM (#15755314) Homepage Journal
      Until some dumbass sent a wrong command to the viking lander and shut it off permanently.
      Not a good thing to put on your resume.
      "Desk jockey in extended viking science mission, until I completely screwed myself out of a job."

      Funny, all the NASA references these days seem to edit that little bit of info out, and merely say that it was shut off due to impending battery failure. Other sources - and my memory suggest otherwise.

      Ah! Here's a reference from the RISKS digest Volume 3, Issue 60 - 1986. (A digest that is still running today, and is a highly insightful window into how technology screwups mess with daily life.)

      Ground control lost contact with Viking 1, apparently due to a
      software change transmitted to the lander that was accidentally
      overlaid upon some mission-critical software already in the lander's
      computer. (Bruce Smith, "JPL Tries to Revive Link with Viking 1",
      @ux(Aviation Week and Space Technology), April 4, 1983, Volume
      118(14), page 16.)


      A scanned image of the mentioned article [hiwaay.net], right at the bottom of the page.

      Revisionist history, indeed.
  • the viking project detected microbial life on Mars in the 70's. I remember. I was a paperboy then and the news made front
    page on the Standard times Newspaper. The news was later retracted, but I do believe that microbial life was detected on Mars
    in the 70s.

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