Over a decade after the Mariner 4 became the first mission to photograph Mars, two probes named Vikings 1 and 2 headed for the planet with the astonishing aim of actually deploying a craft to land on the surface.
Viking 1 landed on the smooth plain of Chryse on July 20, 1976 at 4:53 a.m. PDT. Coincidentally this date was also the seventh anniversary of the first Apollo lunar landing, the most significant day in the history of our space program. July 20 also happened to be a Tuesday, the day named for Tiu, the Scandinavian equivalent for the god Mars. This date will also be remembered as the first time Earthlings established a foothold on the surface of Mars.
Photo. An artist's conception of the Viking Lander approaching its soft landing on the Red Planet's surface. Courtesy of NASA, JPL.
Chryse Planitia--Plains of Gold--is located at the mouth of a huge canyon. Once Viking landed, it began to take photographs of its surroundings--first a picture of its own footpad. Scientists wanted to make sure the lander wouldn't sink into the Martian soil. This picture, the first taken from the surface of another planet, its signal travelling at the speed of light, began to arrive at Earth twenty minutes later.
Both of the Landers were equipped with television cameras, but neither ever saw a plant, an animal, or an animal track. It did see a deserted, rock strewn landscape and a pink sky. Soon after landing, each Viking would perform several important experiments on the soil surrounding the landing site; serving as the first Martian photographers, though, was in itself quite an achievement.
Photo. Viking snapped a picture of its own landing mechanisms, confirming it had literally set foot on Mars. Courtesy of NASA, JPL.
Mission to Mars. An educational site created for the ThinkQuest contest.