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July 20, 1976 - Viking 1 makes first Martian landing.

Paving the way for generations of Martian landers and orbiters, NASA’s Viking 1 mission became the first spacecraft to safely land on the Red Planet’s surface on this day in 1976. 

Following launch on a Titan IIIE rocket, Viking’s 10-month cruise to Mars culminated in orbit insertion on June 19. Landing was initially planned for the United State’s Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, but initial reconnaissance of the landing site proved to be too rough for the spacecraft. Landing was delayed to July 20th at Chryse Planitia.

Two 1,270 pound landers complimented two orbiters as part of NASA’s Viking program. Viking 1 launched on August 20, 1975 and landed on July 20, 1976, while Viking 2 launched on September 9, 1975 and landed on September 3, 1976.

The first photograph ever taken from the surface of Mars showing one of Viking 1′s landing pads.

Viking’s science instruments provided the first in-situ, or ground based observations of Martian seismic, atmospheric, and chemical activity. Since the biological compatibility of Mars’ surface was completely unknown at the time, both Viking landers carried instruments to directly test of organic life. Of the four, three instruments returned negative results while one returned a positive result. 

This discrepancy was first attributed to the chemical reactions of inorganic compounds in the Martian soil, but has been disputed in recent years as data from other Martian missions has been analyzed.

Viking 1 far outlasted its designed operational lifetime of 90 days, transmitting data until November 11, 1982. Upon its deactivation, it was named the Thomas Mutch Memorial Station after the leader of the program’s imaging team.

Viking 1′s Surface Sampler Boom prepares to deliver a soil sample to the spacecraft’s science instruments.

“I am essentially a painter of the kind of still-life composition that communicates a sense of tranquility and privacy, moods which I have always valued above all else…”

Celebrating the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, who was born on this day in 1890. “Still Life” (1943)

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On 16 July 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in the mammoth-sized Saturn V rocket on their way to the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.

via http://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/multimedia/detail.cfm?id=3042

On this day (July 20) and time (3:18 pm EST) in 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, thereby creating the first manned exploration of the moon.

Photo Credit: NASA