NASA’s Viking Data Lives on, Inspires 40 Years Later

NASA – Project Viking Mission to Mars piece.

July 22, 2016

 Model general depicting a Viking lander on the exterior of Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Forty years since, NASA’s Viking mission made history when it became the first office to successfully land a fully operational spacecraft without interrupti~ Mars. This mission gave us our primeval real look at the Martian superficies, as well as the fundamental system of knowledge that has enabled continued missions to the Red Planet, laying the bottom for NASA’s Journey to Mars. 

The spacecraft, dubbed Viking 1, touched the floor on the Martian surface July 20, 1976 — its mate, Viking 2, followed suit and landed September 3 of that identical year.

The mission objectives were carefully laid deficient in: Obtain high-resolution images of the Martian exterior, characterize the composition of the Martian exterior and its atmosphere, and search conducive to life.

After years of imaging, measuring and experimenting, the Viking spacecraft ended passage with the team on Earth, leaving rearward a multitude of data that scientists would study in quest of the next several years.

As engineers and scientists planned conducive to later missions to Mars, the rolls of microfilm containing the Viking facts were stored away for safekeeping and potential later use. It would be any other 20 years before someone looked at some of these data again.

NASA’s Deep Archives

Image too high for: Data from the Viking biology experiments, which is stored on microfilm, has to exist accessed using a microfilm reader. David Williams and the archive team are moving to digitize the data to get it more accessible. Image Credits: David Williams.

David Williams is the planetary curation scientist beneficial to the NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The archive houses much of NASA’s planetary and lunar spacecraft data stored on microfilm and computer tapes, including the Viking data. Williams works to digitize all of the given conditions so that it can be easily accessed from the film.

“At one time, microfilm was the archive action of the future,” Williams said. “But folks quickly turned to digitizing data whenever the web came to be. So at this moment we are going through the microfilm and scanning every frame into our computer database in like manner that anyone can access it online.”

In the seasonably 2000s, Williams received a call from Joseph Miller, professor of pharmacology at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, requesting facts from the Viking biology experiments. But altogether that was left of the given conditions was stored on microfilm.

“I remember acquirement to hold the microfilm in my chirography for the first time and meditation, ‘We did this incredible experiment and this is it, this is total that’s left,'” Williams said. “If something were to happen to it, we would be bereaved of it forever. I couldn’t correct give someone the microfilm to take because that’s all there was.”

Image above: The results of the Viking biology experiments efficiency have been controversial, but the mission helped paved the way for later missions to Mars.Image Credits: David Williams.

The archive team undeniable to tear open the boxes of microfilm and set going digitizing the data.

Lasting Knowledge

Miller wanted to decompose the data from Viking’s biology experiments to comprehend if the Viking science team had missed a thing in the original analysis. He concluded that individual of the Viking biology experiments did, indeed, be at hand proof that life may exist ~ward Mars.

In one of the experiments, known viewed like Labeled Release (LR), the Viking landers scooped up tarnish samples and applied a nutrient cocktail. If microbes were not absent in the soil, they would that may be liked metabolize the nutrient and release carbon dioxide or methane. The experiment did point out metabolism, but the other two Viking experiments did not discover any organic molecules in the dirt. The science team believed the LR data had been skewed by a non-biological property of Martian taint, resulting in a false positive. While arguments persevere, this remains the consensus view.

This was not the elementary time scientists disagreed about the results of the Viking biology experiments. Since the extremely first data analysis, scientists argued encircling whether the experiments proved that Mars in reality was harboring life.

“The data were to a high degree controversial,” Williams said. “But, in a determined course, it helped push for continued Mars missions and landers. The true next missions were planned around the sort of we found with Viking, and at that time the next group of missions built upon those. But even our most current Mars missions allay refer back to Viking.”

One similar mission is Curiosity, which landed ~ward Mars August 6, 2012. Equipped by an instrument suite known as Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), the Curiosity robber is capable of searching for vital compounds on the Martian surface. SAM is able to find a lower concentration of a wider diversity of organic molecules than any other deed sent to Mars, including those steady Viking.

“We built SAM based adhering a lot of experience and portion from Viking,” said Danny Glavin, associate director for Strategic Science in the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Goddard and creator planetary protection lead for SAM. “The capabilities of the Viking landers and instruments were extremely advanced for the technology at the time. Just demonstrating that you could district a spacecraft on the Martian external part successfully was a huge feat.”

Unlike Viking at the time, given conditions from Curiosity’s experiments are uploaded to the Planetary Data System because of easy accessibility.

“Viking data are ~atory being utilized 40 years later,” Glavin said. “I know the same will have ~ing true for SAM. The point is in the place of the community to have access to this data so that scientists 50 years from at present can go back and look at it.”

Sunset at the Viking Lander 1 Site

Image overhead: On July 20, 1976, at 8:12 a.m. EDT, NASA believed the signal that the Viking Lander 1 fortunately reached the Martian surface. This greater milestone represented the first time the United States successfully landed a vehicle on the surface of Mars, collecting an overwhelming sum total of data that would soon be used in future NASA missions. Upon touchdown, Viking 1 took its first picture of the dusty and hard surface and relayed the historic statue back to Earthlings eagerly awaiting its arrival. Viking 1, and later Viking Orbiter 2, collected each abundance of high-resolution imagery and according to principles data, blazing a trail that be inclined one day take humans to Mars. Image Credits: NASA/JPL.

This excuse image of the Martian surface in the Chryse domain was taken by Viking Lander 1, looking southwest, round 15 minutes before sunset on the evening of Aug. 21. The sun is at an elevation angle of 3 or 4 degrees above the horizon and about 50 degrees clockwise from the becoming edge of the frame. Local topographic features are accentuated through the low lighting angle. A cavity is seen near the center of the image, just above the Lander’s leg endure structure, which was not evident in anterior pictures taken at higher sun angles. Just remote from the depression are large rocks near 30 centimeters (1 foot) across. The spread abroad shadows are due to the daylight that has been scattered by the dusty Martian air as a result of the far-reaching path length from the setting sunshine. Toward the horizon, several bright patches of naked bedrock are revealed.

In 2016, the Viking gift by will continues. Lessons learned from Viking technology blazed the trail during the term of future Mars missions, which have vastly improved our understanding of the Red Planet. Today NASA has a swift of orbiters and rovers on and on every side of Mars, making key discoveries such in the same proportion that evidence of liquid water near the superficies of Mars and paving the progress for future human-crew missions. The Mars 2020 freebooter recently passed an important mission milestone docile launch in 2020, arriving on Mars in February of 2021. Its delegation is to seek signs of past life and demonstrate new technologies to assistant astronauts survive on Mars, with the goal of sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

Related instant:

NASA’s Next Mars Rover Progresses Toward 2020 Launch

For greater degree of information about NASA’s Viking program, inspect:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Sarah Schlieder/Ashley Morrow.


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