A Viking On Mars

  • Released Thursday, July 21st, 2016
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:48PM

It was 40 ago, on July 20, 1976, that NASA's Viking 1 lander touched down on Mars, becoming the first U.S. spacecraft to successfully land on the planet. On that day, the 1,270-pound vehicle separated from its orbiter and began to descend through the Martian atmosphere traveling at around 500 mph. Its speed was slowed by the deployment of a parachute and the firing of three main retrorocket engines. The vehicle arrived safely at its landing site—a rock-strewn plain in the planet’s northern equatorial region—in the afternoon, Mars local time. The Viking 1 lander carried a number of science instruments to examine the composition of Mars’ atmosphere and surface, including a robotic arm that could scoop up soil samples. During its more than six years in operation, scientists collected hundreds of high-resolution images and important data that would pave the way for future Mars missions. Explore the images to learn more.

The Viking 1 mission launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on August 20, 1975.

The Viking 1 mission launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on August 20, 1975.

Viking 1 consisted of an orbiter (left) and a lander (right). The lander was equipped with a robotic arm to collect samples from the surface.

Viking 1 consisted of an orbiter (left) and a lander (right). The lander was equipped with a robotic arm to collect samples from the surface.

The lander captured this photo—the first ever taken from the surface of Mars—minutes after touchdown. One of its footpads is visible in the image.

The lander captured this photo—the first ever taken from the surface of Mars—minutes after touchdown. One of its footpads is visible in the image.

Scientists created this panorama of the Viking 1 landing site using images transmitted to Earth by the spacecraft.

Scientists created this panorama of the Viking 1 landing site using images transmitted to Earth by the spacecraft.


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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Cover image courtesy of NASA/JPL
Viking 1 launch image courtesy of NASA
Viking 1 orbiter model image courtesy of NASA
Viking 1 lander model image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Mars surface image courtesy of NASA/JPL
Mars panorama image courtesy of NASA/JPL