This week’s entry from the RedState Department of History commemorates the launch of the first spacecraft ever to land on Mars.
On this date in 1975, Viking I blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida headed for the Red Planet. Ten months later, almost to the day, the craft entered orbit around Mars and began to map the planet to help find a suitable location to land.
One month later – eleven months to the day after launch and on the seventh anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon, Viking I became the first spacecraft to land on Mars.
The space race which had spawned such rivalry in space between the United States and the Soviet Union also extended to interplanetary travel. While the Americans made headlines on Mars, the Soviets made headlines on Venus, which they reached ten times with their Venera probes. Venera 7 became the first spacecraft to land on another planet in 1970 and Venera 9 became the first to send back pictures from another planet in 1975.
However, it was America’s Mariner 9 in 1970 which became the first craft ever to orbit another planet, as a precursor to Viking, and it was America’s Mariner 2 in 1962 which became the first craft ever to have a successful encounter with another planet when it passed within 21,000 miles of Venus. It was also America’s first “first” in the budding space race with the Soviets.
Viking was an equally great tour-de-force as any of the Soviet achievements. Viking I and Viking II, which was launched in September 1975, mapped the entire surface of Mars before landing locations were selected. They beat the Soviets’ Mars 2 and Mars 3 probes by one month into Martian orbit.
Viking I touched down in the Chryse Plantitia region of Mars on July 20, 1976, followed shortly afterward by Viking II. It spent 2,307 days in active operation on Mars, a record which stood until the Opportunity lander broke it in 2010.
Other events on this date:
August 20, 1977 — NASA launches Voyager II, which celebrates its 40th birthday today. Launched 16 days before its more famous counterpart Voyager I, it was launched on a different orbital path to allow it to perform a different mission. Voyager II, which is on its way to interstellar space, remains the only probe to visit both Uranus and Neptune and is presently about ten billion miles from Earth.
August 20, 1968 — Soviet troops crush dissidents in Czechoslovakia. After assuming leadership of the country’s Communist Party, and annoyed with Soviet exploitation of his country, Secretary General Alexander Dubcek had attempted to implement a policy he called “Socialism With a Human Face.” The Soviets preferred facelessness.
Have a great Sunday, everyone, and enjoy today’s open thread!