An original intern of the Viking program recalls the day of the Mars landing.
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.—-President Kennedy, Address to Congress, May 25, 1961.
40th Anniversary of Viking’s Red Planet Rendezvous
July 20. The date is instantly recognizable to space enthusiasts as the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969. But another major space-exploration anniversary shares the same date. Can you name which one? Perhaps if you’re a Baby Boomer.
On July 20, 1976, NASA’s Viking 1 lander touched down safely on Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to do so. The milestone was originally scheduled for July 4th, to coincide with the U.S. bicentennial celebration. But images from the Viking 1 orbiter — the lander’s mother ship — revealed the planned landing site to be more boulder-strewn than expected. It took 16 days for mission scientists to find a less hazardous alternative. Two months later, on September 3rd, the twin Viking 2 lander also made a successful touchdown.
This past Saturday, July 16th, some 200 of the mission’s surviving scientists and engineers and their families, along with many younger space explorers inspired by the Vikings, gathered at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver, Colorado, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Viking 1 landing.
The event was organized by Rachel Tillman, executive director of the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project. As the daughter of Jim Tillman, a member of Viking’s meteorology team, Rachel literally grew up with the mission and has known most of its team members — if not personally, at least by name — for nearly her entire life.