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

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Remembering NASA's Viking 1 and the first images from Mars
21st July 1976: The first colour photograph taken on the surface of the planet Mars, by the Viking 1 probe. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Mars approach during Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 - unspecified) mission to study planet from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Martian Surface Of Fine Grained Material, Martian Surface Of Rocks And Fine-Grained Material, Photographed In 1976 By The Viking 1 Spacecraft. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JULY 03: Global mosaic of 102 Viking 1 Orbiter images of Mars taken on orbit 1,334, on 22 February 1980. The images are projected into point perspective, representing what a viewer would see from a spacecraft at an altitude of 2,500 km. At the centre is Valles Marineris, over 3000 km long and up to 8 km deep. At upper right are the channels running up (north) from the central and eastern portions of Valles Marineris to the dark area, Acidalic Planitia. At left are the three Tharsis volcanoes and to the south is ancient, heavily impacted terrain. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Tharsis Ridge, Mars' youngest volcanic region, as recorded by Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 -unspecified) during mission to study Mars from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
COMPOSIT: Four photo's of planet Mars surface recorded by Viking (unspecified 1 or 2) spacecraft during mission to study Mars from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/JPL/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Great volcano, Olympus Mons, as recorded by Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 -unspecified) during mission to study Mars from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Great ice cliffs, N. polar region, as recorded by Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 -unspecified) during mission to study Mars from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Huge Martian canyon, Valles Marineris, as recorded by Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 -unspecified) during mission to study Mars from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Phobos moon of Mars as recorded by Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 - unspecified) during mission to study planet from orbit. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Viking spacecraft (1 of 2 - unspecified) lander during mission to study Mars. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Montage seen fr. moon: Earth (L) Sun (R-L) Jupiter, Venus, Mercury (top), Mars & Saturn; by Apollo 17, 8, 12, Pioneer Venus, Voyager 1, Mariner 10, Pioneer II & Viking. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Sun setting just over horizon of Mars, taken by Viking 1 lander during mission to study planet. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Part of the Grand Canyon, Marineris Vallis, on Mars, 1976. This view was taken by the Viking Orbiter 1 spacecraft. The canyons are some 4000 kilometres long and are over 6 kilometres deep in places. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms, however none was found. (Photo by Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 30: Two Viking spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars in 1976. Viking 1, launched on 20th August 1975, touched down in the Chryse Planitia region on 20th July 1976, and Viking 2, launched on 9th September 1975, landed in the Utopia Planetia region on 3rd September 1976. They returned many such pictures of the Martian surface as well as carrying out experiments to search for life. No life forms were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 07: This shows a sample of soil actually in the lander's soil retrieval scoop. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976. It continued to return data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 07: Part of the spacecraft can be seen in this picture. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976. It continued to return data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 07: This shows a flat rock-strewn surface with a pink sky. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976. It continued to return data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 07: This view of the red surface of Mars also shows part of the spacecraft itself. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms - none were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 30: This false colour image, taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter, exaggerates the differences in the lava flows that have accumulated over time. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms - none were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 25: A view of a reddish ridge 50 metres from the Lander. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976 where it studied the Martian environment, soil constituents and searched for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 returned data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 25: This shows a red, rocky landscape. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976 where it studied the Martian environment, soil constituents and searched for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 returned data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: This shows the red Martian landscape and part of the Viking Lander itself. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976, where it studied the Martian environment, soil constituents and searched for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 returned data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: This shows the red Martian landscape and the arm of the Viking Lander used to collect soil samples for on-board analysis. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976, where it studied the Martian environment, soil constituents and searched for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 returned data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: This shows a red, rocky landscape on the surface of Mars. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars on 20th July 1976, where it studied the Martian environment, soil constituents and searched for simple life forms - none were found. Viking 1 returned data to Earth until November 1982. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 16: In 1975, NASA sent two spacecraft, named Viking, to Mars. After a journey of 10 months, the spacecraft orbited the planet, taking pictures from which landing sites were selected. On 20th July, 1976, Viking 1�s lander touched down on the Martian surface, followed on 3rd September by Viking 2. The landers photographed their surroundings, analysed the soil, and made meteorological observations, while the orbiters photographed the entire planet�s surface and measured atmospheric water vapour. The primary aim of the mission was to search for any evidence of life on Mars, past or present. None was found, but analysis of the Martian landscape did suggest that water may have been present in considerable quantities in the past. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 22: This picture from one of the Viking landers shows a rock-strewn vista, with rocks of all sizes, and the familiar red colouration of the Martian surface. Two Viking spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars in 1976. Viking 1, launched on 20th August 1975, touched down in the Chryse Planitia region on 20th July 1976, and Viking 2, launched on 9th September 1975, landed in the Utopia Planetia region on 3rd September 1976. They returned many pictures of the Martian surface as well as carrying out experiments to search for life. No life forms were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: The picture shows the red Martian landscape and, to the right, trenches in the surface dug by the arm of the Viking lander for soil samples. Viking 1 was launched on 20th August 1975 and landed in the Chryse Planitia region of Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for the simple life forms - none were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 13: This view was taken by the Viking Orbiter 1 spacecraft. These canyons are some 4000 kilometres long and are over 6 kilometres deep in places. They are thought to have been formed by the Martian crust being stretched apart by the formation of another large landform, the Tharsis Bulge, rather than by erosion by water in the past. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars by NASA in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms. No evidence of life was found, but more recent studies of the Martian landscape suggest that in the past surface water may have been present, which could have enabled life to exist. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 01: Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the Solar System. Mars has a number of volcanoes, which are generally larger than those on Earth. This is thought to be due to the lower gravity on Mars and more importantly, the fact that because Mars has never been tectonically active, magma welling up from the planet�s interior continued to erupt from a volcano at the same location. There is currently no volcanic activity on Mars, but with the most recent volcanic features dated at between 10 and 100 million years ago, relatively recently in geological terms, scientists have not ruled out the possibility of volcanoes erupting again in the future. This false colour image taken from the Viking 1 Orbiter shows the differences in the lava flows that have accumulated over time. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 13: Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars by NASA in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms. No evidence of life was found, but more recent studies of the Martian landscape suggest that in the past abundant surface water may have been present, which could have enabled life to exist. Today Mars has a very thin atmosphere, mainly of carbon dioxide. No liquid surface water appears to exist, but there are permanent polar ice caps, made up of frozen water and carbon dioxide (dry ice). Surface temperatures range from -133 degrees C at the poles in winter, to 27 degrees C on the day side in summer. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 13: Very little surface detail can be seen in this photograph taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter. Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars by NASA in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms. No evidence of life was found, but more recent studies of the Martian landscape suggest that in the past abundant surface water may have been present, which could have enabled life to exist. Today Mars has a very thin atmosphere, mainly of carbon dioxide, and no liquid surface water appears to exist. The planet�s red colour is due to the presence of large quantities of iron oxide on its surface. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: Two Viking spacecraft were launched towards Mars in 1975, each carrying a lander spacecraft and an orbiter. Both successfully landed their probes on Mars to study the Martian environment, soil constituents and to search for simple life forms - none were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
This mosaic of Mars is a compilation of images captured by the Viking Orbiter 1. The center of the scene shows the entire 2,500-mile Valles Marineris canyon system, which is five times as long as the Grand Canyon. The image is part of "MARS 2K4," an exhibit on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington from Jan. 22 through April 25, 2004. (AP Photo/NASA, USGS)
The first color picture taken on the surface of Mars, July 21, 1976, by the Viking I lander shows that the Martian soil consists mainly of reddish fine-grained material. However, small patches of black or blue-black soil found deposited around many of the foreground rocks. (AP photo)
The Martian surface is shown in an image taken by the Viking 1 lander in August 1976. A study by researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and three universities claimed on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1996, to have found in a rock from Mars organic compounds they say were deposited by primitive life forms before the rock was blasted into space and sent on a 15 million-year voyage to Earth. In 1976, Vikings 1 and 2 put landers on Mars, but soil sampling by the robot craft detected no organiccompounds. (AP Photo/NASA)
The Martian horizon is shown in a composite of three images taken in September 1976 by the Viking 2 Mars lander. A study by researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and three universities claimed on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1996, to have found in a rock from Mars organic compounds they say were deposited by primitive life forms before the rock was blasted into space and sent on a 15 million-year voyage to Earth. In 1976, Vikings 1 and 2 put landers on Mars, but soil sampling by the robot craft detected no organic compounds. (AP Photo/NASA)
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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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