Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 1975 Viking Mars Lander

Recent events brought back vivid memories
by Joseph B.

The recent "soft landing" of the Viking Rover, brought back memories dating to the mid-1970s, of another Viking lander that was the first to crash land on the planet, gather photographic and scientific data and relay that information back to earth. Lockheed Electronics, Information Technology Division, in Plainfield, New Jersey, supplied the tape recorder. The recorder would survive the Earth-Mars transitory flight and hard landing on the planet’s surface and store the data being taken by the many payload instruments. Further, upon command from the lander's brain, the tape recorder would play and transmit this data back for use by scientific teams on earth.

In order to crash land a payload on the surface of Mars and maintain the biological integrity of the planet, all instruments on the lander needed to be "sterilized." The payload components needed to survive numerous heat cycles of sterilization to eliminate any earth-generated microbes. There were several cycles of exposure of the lander to temperatures in excess of 140 degrees Centigrade or 284 degrees Fahrenheit.

Think about that for a few seconds! When was the last time you put a magnetic tape recorder in your oven at 284 degrees and were able to retrieve it in some recognizable and usable form?

This description is a gross oversimplification of the efforts that went into this project. Many sleepless nights and days of sacrifice were involved. In the end, it proved well worth it.