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Gemini 9 Launches 48 Years Ago Today (3 June 1966) —- The Gemini-9 spacecraft, carrying astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, command pilot, and Eugene A. Cernan, pilot, was successfully launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 19 at 8:39 a.m. (EST), June 3, 1966. Photo credit: NASA

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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.

(NASA)  On October 19th, a rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base - the last Titan rocket. Carrying a payload for the US National Reconnaissance Office, the successful Titan IV B launch brings to a close the Titan program whose first launch was in 1959. Originally designed as an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Titan rocket ultimately evolved into a heavy lift workhorse, launching defense, commercial, and scientific payloads to Earth orbit and beyond. In fact, many historic space explorations began with Titan launches, including manned Gemini missions, the Viking missions to Mars, the Voyager tours of the outer solar system, and the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn. Cassini’s probe Huygens accomplished the most distant landing on another world, while Voyager 1 is now humanity’s most distant spacecraft.

First Flight of Project Gemini Was Launched 49 Years Ago Today (23 March 1965) — Launch view of the Gemini-Titan 3 mission. The GT-3 liftoff was at 9:24 a.m. (EST) on March 23, 1965. The Gemini-3 spacecraft “Molly Brown” carried astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, command pilot, and John W. Young, pilot, on three orbits of Earth.

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Gemini 8 Launches Into Space 48 Years Ago (16 March 1966) — Gemini-Titan 8 (GT-8) spacecraft, carrying astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, command pilot, and David R. Scott, pilot, was successfully launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 11:41 a.m. (EST), March 16, 1966. An attempt will be made to rendezvous and dock the GT-8 spacecraft with Agena Docking Target Vehicle. Photo credit: NASA