NASA’s Viking data lives on, inspires 40 years later

NASA photograph by David Williams NASA photograph ~ the agency of David Williams

Data from the Viking biology experiments, that is stored on microfilm, has to subsist accessed using a microfilm reader. David Williams and the archive team are working to digitize the data to constitute it more accessible.

Forty years ago, NASA’s Viking mission made annals when it became the first deputation to successfully land a fully operational spacecraft in c~tinuance Mars.

This mission gave us our capital real look at the Martian surface, as well as the fundamental system of knowledge that has enabled continued missions to the Red Planet, laying the endowment for NASA’s Journey to Mars.

The spacecraft, dubbed Viking 1, touched on the ground on the Martian surface July 20, 1976 — its fellow, Viking 2, followed suit and landed Sept. 3 of that sort year.

The mission objectives were carefully laid ~right: Obtain high-resolution images of the Martian outside, characterize the composition of the Martian surface and its atmosphere, and search as being life.

After years of imaging, measuring and experimenting, the Viking spacecraft ended converse with the team on Earth, leaving abaft a multitude of data that scientists would study on this account that the next several years.

As engineers and scientists planned for later missions to Mars, the rolls of microfilm containing the Viking facts were stored away for safekeeping and possible later use. It would be not the same 20 years before someone looked at some of these data again.

David Williams is the planetary curation scientist beneficial to the NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The archive houses plenteous of NASA’s planetary and lunar spacecraft data stored on microfilm and computer tapes, including the Viking premises. Williams works to digitize all of the facts so that it can be easily accessed from the film.

NASA photograph by David Williams NASA photograph by David Williams

The results of the Viking biology experiments ability have been controversial, but the legation helped paved the way for later missions to Mars.

“At single in kind time, microfilm was the archive transaction of the future,” Williams said. “But people quickly turned to digitizing given conditions when the web came to have ~ing. So now we are going end the microfilm and scanning every ~work into our computer database so that anyone have power to access it online.”

In the seasonable 2000s, Williams received a call from Joseph Miller, professor of pharmacology at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, requesting given conditions from the Viking biology experiments. But tot~y that was left of the given conditions was stored on microfilm.

“I remember acquirement to hold the microfilm in my possession for the first time and judgment, ‘We did this incredible use of ~s and this is it, this is all that’s left,’” Williams said. “If something were to come to pass to it, we would lose it endlessly. I couldn’t just give someone the microfilm to borrow because that’s all there was.”

The archive team certain to tear open the boxes of microfilm and take the first step digitizing the data.

Lasting knowledge
Miller wanted to analyze the data from Viking’s biology experiments to understand if the Viking science team had missed a part in the original analysis. He concluded that person of the Viking biology experiments did, indeed, proposition proof that life may exist on Mars.

In one of the experiments, known for the re~on that Labeled Release, the Viking landers scooped up sully samples and applied a nutrient cocktail. If microbes were not heedless in the soil, they would probable metabolize the nutrient and release carbon dioxide or methane. The experiment did indicate metabolism, but the other two Viking experiments did not attain to any organic molecules in the foulness. The science team believed the LR premises had been skewed by a non-biological property of Martian contaminate, resulting in a false positive. While arguments perpetuate, this remains the consensus view.

This was not the leading time scientists disagreed about the results of the Viking biology experiments. Since the real first data analysis, scientists argued around whether the experiments proved that Mars indeed was harboring life.

“The facts were very controversial,” Williams afore~. “But, in a way, it helped push as being continued Mars missions and landers. The surpassingly next missions were planned around the sort of we found with Viking, and hereafter the next group of missions built immediately after those. But even our most current Mars missions quiet refer back to Viking.”

One similar mission is Curiosity, which landed forward Mars Aug. 6, 2012. Equipped by an instrument suite known as Sample Analysis at Mars, the Curiosity inconstant person is capable of searching for organic compounds on the Martian surface. SAM is quick to detect a lower concentration of a wider multifariousness of organic molecules than any other agent sent to Mars, including those attached Viking.

“We built SAM based ~ward a lot of experience and patrimony from Viking,” said Danny Glavin, associate director for Strategic Science in the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Goddard and quondam planetary protection lead for SAM. “The capabilities of the Viking landers and instruments were real advanced for the technology at the time. Just demonstrating that you could earth a spacecraft on the Martian surface successfully was a huge feat.”

Unlike Viking at the time, premises from Curiosity’s experiments are uploaded to the Planetary Data System according to easy accessibility.

“Viking data are calm being utilized 40 years later,” Glavin said. “I know the same bequeath be true for SAM. The subject-matter is for the community to have access to this data so that scientists 50 years from things being so can go back and look at it.”

In 2016, the Viking bequest continues. Lessons learned from Viking technology blazed the trail beneficial to future Mars missions, which have very greatly improved our understanding of the Red Planet. Today NASA has a inlet of orbiters and rovers on and about Mars, making key discoveries such considered in the state of evidence of liquid water near the outside of Mars and paving the custom for future human-crew missions. The Mars 2020 wanderer recently passed an important mission milestone near at hand launch in 2020, arriving on Mars in February of 2021. Its despatch is to seek signs of bygone time life and demonstrate new technologies to give a lift astronauts survive on Mars, with the goal of sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

For other information about NASA’s Viking program, survey www.nasa.gov/viking.

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