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1976 Viking Mars Lander VL1 - A childs perspective and inspiration

Rachel Tillman

November 26, 2013

1976 Viking Mars Lander VL1 - A childs perspective and inspiration

It was July 20, 1976... I was 11 years old, and it was early in the am 4am plus…, or late, considering we had been up all night in excitement and preparation for this incredible moment… the first images coming from the VIKING MARS LANDER (VL1). That moment was not the actual beginning for me as the daughter of a Viking Team member, as I was surrounded by funny paper with holes in it and plastic rings I used as collars for my dog, and stacks of typed paper and the radio always on since day one – literally… but it was THE moment when a lot of things came clear. At least the significance. We were looking at Mars close up! We had seen pictures from the Orbiters on the journey to choose a landing zone, and that was cool, but something about my age perhaps, and the achievement of actually LANDING successfully on Mars and sending pictures back really made it all gel for me, and it has come full circle… We were surrounded by the yellow linoleum of some room at JPL – at that time I think most rooms we went into there were yellow linoleum or a funny rust color I vaguely remember… I felt like it was a cafeteria of some kind, and there were a few other kids there, not as many as I would later think there might have been, a few games set up for us to play – toss the plastic computer rings onto pegs in a wooden board was the only one a remember well. And my goal (while waiting) was to win a sucker for each kid in my class that I would give to them when school resumed in Fall. The Engineers would wander in and out to visit their family members (us), and share what was going on in Ops. There was a screen in the room set up for the images to be displayed when the downlink came in so we could see it too. People were actually relatively calm most of the time. At that point in the evolution of technology, folks were still used to waiting days and weeks even to send a receive mail (documents with handwritten diagrams and calculations) with critical information between peers in the academic community. They were patient, to put it mildly. Especially since now, an slow or unanswered email of a critical nature now is the difference between keeping a job, making a discovery – or not. So, though the energy was high, the drama was pretty low, until the actual pixels started to move down the screen in slow… REALLY SLOW vertical lines. I was glued to the screen like everyone else the minute the first pixels came in… What would we see? Was it really on Mars? Would there be something staring at the camera back at us? (ok that was the 11 year old in me wanting there to be…) but really… we were all thinking that, us kids, even though many knew it would be that way at all… But it didn’t matter! It was MARS. The Red Planet. The one my Dad talked about with his buddies all the time and spent all his time working on and yes, even asking me what I thought? We even drew pictures of what we thought life might look like on Mars. Do YOU remember doing that back then? Most of us kids from the 60s and 70s did that kind of thing before TV was in every home and digital photography was embedded in our phones. Anyway, the image began to draw, one pixel line at a time… Now when they realized the resolution was not what was desired in the initial images (you can see that in the final full image) from the first several lines, there was some drama relatively speaking. From my 11 year old memory, it was more like concern, a little disappointment in some voices, and action and problem solving from others. “Was is calibration, was it data lost…what was it…?” But is didn’t matter to me what it looked like, as a child watching that picture emerge, I was amazed, impressed, and in love with what humans could achieve (and what other life forms might look like and how and why they DO work at all in this or any other atmosphere - which led me to my degree in Biology years later)… And at the end of the day, even though I was a kid, I felt involved. It left me with a sense that I could do something great too… which leads me to today and my passion about preserving the history and value of these Missions for future generations. Fast forward a few years and it will all be unveiled… With thanks for the inspiration, risk taking, hard work, dream big and never give up attitudes of the Viking Team members and individuals from other entities that worked on the Missions from academia and commercial sector around the globe… you changed my life and many others I am quite sure.


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