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Remembering NASA's Viking 1 and the first images from Mars

By Eric Sandler

On August 20, 1975 -- 39 years ago today -- NASA launched the first of two spacecraft as a part of their new Viking program and the images they captured back in the '70s and '80s still stand pretty incredible today. "We were really trying to learn about Mars," said Tom Young, the mission director. "I don't think there was anyone on the program -- be they engineer, administrator, scientist -- who didn't really appreciate, respect and agree that it was a science mission."

And little did they know the impact this particular mission would have. Though the principal reason for sending the Viking craft to Mars was to search for signs of life (which they didn't find conclusive evidence of), they accomplished much more than anyone could have hoped for. The spacecraft -- designed to collect data for 90 days -- ended up staying to successfully collect data for over six years. It held the record for the longest Mars surface mission (2307 days) until that record was broken in 2010 by the Opportunity Rover.

Dr. Dan McCleese explained on their findings: "We've discovered that ancient Mars had regions which we call habitable, which means places where life might have begun. But even if it was never there, we believe that we have a second planet in the solar system, the first being Earth, where life might have developed. And I think that the fundamental new information about the planet is our conviction that it's a habitable planet."

Check out some of the incredible photographs captured by Viking 1 above and be sure to read NASA's full account of the historic mission:
-Fact Sheet
-Experiments Conducted
-Data Collected

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