16 August 2012

In praise of Viking


I didn’t even have to look that up.

That was the year that the first machine made by human beings landed on the surface of Mars. Its name was Viking.

And it sent back colour photos.

I bring this up because with all the hoopla about the successful landing of Curiosity, people seem to have forgotten about the Viking missions. People have mentioned Spirit and Opportunity and talked about them as though they were the first things on Mars, rather than science being done on the Martian surface for over 35 years.

I’ve heard people say Curiosity is the first time we’ve had colour pictures from Mars, which boggles me, because I remember those images from Viking making the news when they were released. There were big gatefold pictures in National Geographic. (Pace was slower then; the pictures were in the January 1977 issue, about six months after the landing.)

Viking may not have had the dramatic landing of Curiosity. We couldn’t follow the news as closely as we can today. But it was Viking that blazed the trail. Let’s give it it due.

Photo from here.

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