The quest for Mars
When the Apollo 17 capsule, America, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean returning its crew safely to Earth, it marked the end of American lunar exploration in the twentieth century. A new era was already underway, a very long era in which man would not venture beyond low-Earth orbit. The first of the new missions included Skylab, America’s first long-duration space station. This was followed by the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, the joint United States and Soviet Union mission to rendezvous an Apollo Command and Service Module with a Soyuz spacecraft. However, even as Project Apollo was within one year of achieving its goal of landing a man on the Moon, NASA had initiated a complex and expensive unmanned probe program to Mars. In 1968, NASA directed the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia to begin work on a sophisticated spacecraft that would be launched toward Mars, orbit the planet in search of acceptable landing sites, and then soft-land on the Martian surface. This was Project Viking. The Viking spacecraft would be equipped to take photographs and beam them back to Earth, and the lander would carry instruments to study chemical composition, biology, magnetic properties, meteorology and other scientific functions, as well as take photographs of the surrounding area for relaying back to Earth.
KeywordsLanding Site Martian Atmosphere Martian Surface Mars Science Laboratory Mars Exploration Rover
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