Aug. 08, 2012

Mars Excitement: Back to the Future

by Ira Flatow

Click to enlarge images
The excitement about the first pictures of Mars' surface coming back from the Curiosity mission to Mars is déjà vu all over again. I recall being at Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the Viking missions to Mars back in the mid 1970s and feeling the joy and exhilaration of seeing the first pictures ever sent back to Earth from another planet when Viking 1 touched down in July 1976. Think about it: The first pictures ever sent back from the surface of another planet!
That first photo is at the top of the page.
It's very similar to the first photo sent back from Curiosity.
Except instead of a wheel in the corner,  a giant flat “foot” of Viking 1 jumps out.
Then came the first color photo sent back from the surface, confirming the rich red color of the soil that gave Mars its nickname.
Compare it to first color photo from Curiosity.
Hundreds of more Viking photos followed, but one of my favorites (I still have the black and white print 35 years later) was this one, the first showing the sweeping panorama of the Martian landscape.
Of course Viking 1 (and Viking 2 which followed shortly) could not move from their landing sites. But they did scoop up and analyze soil, looking for signs of life past or present in experiments that did not find any but are still controversial today.
And more importantly these missions whetted our appetites to go back to Mars with cameras, rovers, and soil test kits that Viking mission scientists could only have dreamed about back in the day. 
One can hardly wait.
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

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