On this day 39 years ago, NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft launched aboard a Titan/Centaur launch vehicle beginning its near year-long journey to Mars.
Immediately following touchdown, the Viking 1 lander made history by taking and transmitting the first complete photograph taken from the surface of Mars. The image (http://goo.gl/6C5L6m) was of the Viking 1 lander’s foot as an indication of how far it had sunk into the Martian surface. Between itself and its companion,Viking 2, this historic photograph was just the first of more than 50,000 images taken from the Martian surface, as well as from orbit, and transmitted back to Earth.
What makes Viking 1 especially worth noting is that not only was the spacecraft the first attempt by the United States at landing on Mars, but it was also the first to successfully do so and perform its mission. During its operation on the Martian surface, Viking 1 became the record holder for longest Mars surface mission at 2307 days, until Mars Rover Opportunity took the record in 2010.
“Voyager cost each American less than a penny a year from launch to Neptune encounter.” – Carl Sagan, ‘Pale Blue Dot’
Today, 37 years following Voyager 2’s launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 1977, the probe continues to string information back to Earth via the Deep Space Network, despite being nearly 15,700,000,000 kilometres away. While its transmissions are faint, reflecting its distance from its homeport, Voyager 2 remains as the longest operating of all of NASA’s existing space probes.
While its trajectory would eventually take the space probe past Uranus and Neptune, Voyager 2’s initial funding was meant purely for the space probe’s flyby studies of Jupiter and Saturn, and not for surveying these outer planets. This aside, Voyager 2’s flight path was selected from 10,000 proposed trajectories to preserve the option of studying the outer solar system if funding could be attained.
Some of this celebrated space probe’s highlights include being the only probe to have visited all four outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, expanding our understanding of Saturn’s complex ring system, and discovering Neptune’s “Great Dark Spot”.
On this day 75 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation that established Orville Wright’s birthday as National Aviation Day. Born on August 19, 1871, Orville Wright was an aviation pioneer who, along with his brother, is credited with inventing and building the first successful airplane. Orville made the world’s first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on December 17, 1903.
The phrase “Tough and Competent” was created by NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz and became the rallying cry of NASA and the Mission Control crew after the Apollo 1 disaster.
"Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did. From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control."- The Kranz Dictum
Gene Kranz served as Flight Director for a number of NASA milestones, including Apollo 11, the “successful failure” of Apollo 13, and the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Please be sure to checkout another great video from our friend Mike Dawson and his Assignment Universe project.
One of only 24 people to have visited the Moon, Apollo 14 Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa was a graduate of the historic 1966 Astronaut Group 5, logging almost exactly 9 days in space over the span of his career.
While he may have never walked on the lunar surface, Roosa conducted important experiments from the Apollo 14 Command Module while crew mates Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell trudged along the surface below. This included taking photographs of the lunar surface and of the future landing site of the Apollo 16 mission.
Due to his past as a smokejumper in Oregon and California, Roosa was contacted by the Chief of the Forest Service, Ed Cliff, prior to launching with an unusual proposal - to take tree seeds into space. Since referred to as “Moon Trees”, the five different types of tree seeds that Roosa took into space were germinated upon their return and planted through the United States in one of the many U.S. Forest Service/NASA projects that the two agencies have since orchestrated.
Amazing how time flies! Today marks the 9th anniversary of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) launch, which took off aboard an Atlas V rocket on August 12th, 2005 en route for Martian orbit.
Orbiting the Red Planet far past its primary mission duration (7 years past, to be exact), the MRO was initially sent not only to carefully map the terrain below and observe the Martian climate, but to carefully analyze the landscape for evidence that water may have once existed on Mars. The existence of water, past or present, is a key indicator in revealing whether Mars ever harboured the conditions necessary for microbial or complex organisms to develop. While our understanding of the history of water on Mars remains fluid, evidence as provided by the MRO helps us better understand how hydrologic activity might have existed during an otherwise arid epoch in Martian history.
Currently in a mission phase known as ‘Extended Mission 2’, the MRO is targeting new areas of interest on the surface below while characterizing interannual shifts in atmospheric and surface processes. Not only this, but the MRO also provides communicative support for landers and rover probes below.
The work being completed by the MRO is an important precursor to potential future manned missions to Mars. However, in order to make the next steps, NASA needs your help. Show your support for NASA by writing to Congress to let them know you support doubling funding for NASA: http://www.penny4nasa.org/take-action/