Landing at Utopia Planitia
On September 3rd, 1976, the Viking 2 lander touched down on Mars at Utopia Planitia.
The Viking landers were powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators which allowed them to operate without the need for sunlight and solar panels.
Viking 2 touched down at 9:49 a.m. local Mars time according to NASA. The lander also had one of its legs end up on top of a rock, causing the lander to tilt at an 8.2-degree angle. Right after touching down the lander began to image the surface. It sent back thousands of pictures of the Martian surface and took weather measurements during the time it was active.
As part of the 20th anniversary of the Viking landers touching down on Mars, NASA, the Planetary Society, and the Smithsonian held events looking at the legacy of these missions. The NASA press release from 1996 sums up the Viking missions as follows:
“The Viking missions provided numerous new insights into the nature and history of Mars, producing a vivid overall picture of a cold weathered surface with reddish volcanic soil under a thin, dry carbon dioxide atmosphere, clear evidence for the existence of ancient river beds and vast floods, and no detectable seismic activity. Viking probably will be most remembered for its tantalizing search for signs of life on Mars. State-of-the-art at the time, the biology experiment package contained instruments that searched the Martian soil for evidence of metabolic processes like those found in bacteria, green plants, and animals on Earth.”
Sadly, the Viking landers didn’t gather evidence that showed life ever existed on Mars. All is not lost in the search for life on the Red Planet. Continued efforts to study Mars in greater detail has led to troves of data related to the planet. Spacecraft have been continuously active at Mars since the late 1990s.
If you watch Star Trek, Utopia Planitia may sound familiar, because it’s a fictional shipyard in orbit of Mars in the Star Trek universe. It’s where many starships, like the Enterprise D and USS Voyager, were built and this orbital complex was mentioned in several episodes. The reason I bring it up today is that these fictional shipyards orbit above Utopia Planitia. It’s pretty cool how Star Trek tied into a real-life location in our solar system, instead of some distant alien planet.