The sign accompanying the Viking lander model. It reads
A Smashing Success
Between the years 1960 and 1976, the Soviet Union and the United States
launched 21 separate missions to Mars. Only nine of those missions enjoyed
even partial success. The Viking I and II missions were stunning exceptions to
the rule. Each Viking was composed of two craft, an orbiter and a landing craft
joined together for the journey between planets. The two would separate once
in orbit, with the lander, seen here, making its way to the surface.
The mission objective was threefold. Study the planet from orbit. Land a
probe softly on the Martian surface. Conduct experiments designed to explore
the true nature of the Martian environment. The underlying hope of the mission
designers was that the information gathered by the Vikings would solve the
greatest of Martian mysteries: Did Mars now or at any time in the past harbor
Both Vikings reached Mars, entered orbit, and safely touched their landing
craft down on the surface. During their relatively short lifetimes, these four
craft added enormously to our store of knowledge concerning our rusty neighbor.
Those who dreamed of finding proof of Martian life were doomed to
disappointment. Samples of Martian soil gathered and tested in the vicinity of
both landing craft indicated no signs of life. The hope of discovery of life
on Mars has dimmed, but has not yet been entirely eliminated.
The Viking Lander on display is a model on loan from the Jet Propulsion
Viking I launched on 20 August 1975. The Viking I landing craft touched down
on Mars 20 July 1976, seven years to the day after the first Moon landing.
Viking II launched on 9 September 1975. The Viking II landing craft joined its
twin on the surface 3 September 1976.