A classic image of Mars from the Viking lander.
Click on image for full size
The Viking Missions
The Viking I and Viking 2 missions were to both orbit Mars and land on the planet's surface. There were two spacecraft for each mission. At this stage in the history of the exploration of Mars, scientists had no idea what to expect nor what they might discover upon landing on the surface.
The spacecraft which landed on the surface confirmed that the Martian landscape looked as bleak as that of the Moon, just as the Mariner missions' had pictured it. They also performed soil studies similar to those performed by Mars Pathfinder (MPF). The soils examined by the Viking missions were found to be similar, but unlike those explored by MPF, even though they landed in similar places!
Immediately prior to Viking 2 orbit insertion, Mars was completely wrapped up in a global dust storm, which made the surface invisible to cameras for several months. It was the first time that scientists realized the size and intensity of Martain dust storms. Eventually, pictures *were* returned by the Viking orbiters and these pictures contained valuable information.
Among other things, measurements from the Viking orbiters helped establish the enormous size of Olympus Mons, which was first imaged by Mariner 9. Viking made more complete measurements of the shape of Mars, measurements which help scientists understand the interior of the planet and the existence of the bulge called Tharsis Ridge.
Some of the data returned from these two spacecraft are shown in the image archive below. With this data, scientists began to make the first educated guesses about what the interior, surface history, and evolution of Mars must be.
The next American spacecraft to scheduled visit Mars was the Mars Observer mission.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
What types of instructional experiences help K-8 students learn science with understanding? What do science educators teachers, teacher leaders, science specialists, professional development staff, curriculum designers, school administrators need to know to create and support such experiences?...more
The Viking missions to Mars were part of a series of U.S. efforts to explore and better understand the red planet. Each of the two Viking spacecrafts consisted of an orbiter and lander. The landers were...more
The first analysis of Mars' soil from Viking landers found no evidence of life, instead showing that organic molecules are even more scarce than on the Earth's moon. The Viking missions did confirm the...more
This image shows a local dust storm near the edge of the south polar cap. Viewing of this image at high resolution is recommended. This fascinating image shows dust swirling over a large area. Martian...more
This image, taken from the Mars Global Surveyor mission (MGS), shows the Tharsis Ridge, the green/blue area in the middle of the picture, as well as a portion of the southern hemisphere of Mars. The green...more
Mars Observer, also called MO for short, was sent to observe the weather, the magnetic field, and the surface of Mars. It carried 8 different instruments. But, MO failed on August 21, 1993. There was a...more
In spite of the fact that Mars has an atmosphere, the environment of Mars seems unfriendly toward life as we know it on earth. Mars is small, so there is not much gravity. For this reason, much of the...more
Mars is about the same size as Earth. And it is fairly close to the Sun. But Mars is cold. Mars also doesn't have a very big atmosphere to protect life from ultraviolet rays which can destroy life. So,...more