Mars Exploration: Surface
& Orbital Reconnaissance


Viking Spacecraft Documentary   Use Your Own Media Player (67.3 MB)

Originally recorded from the TV onto audio tape in 1976 this digital version is the second of two such recordings made since that time: although this is the better quality of the two copies it suffers from the fact that whilst setting up the recording I accidentally erased the first 1 minute 38 seconds of the tape. Also, the original recording, for reasons I do not now recall, ended rather abruptly due to some inexplicable interference. Nevertheless, this recording still has the ability to get me excited and not least because, as I have stated elsewhere on this site, there is growing scientific support for the contention that one of the Viking Lander experiments, the Labelled Release Experiment, DID find life on Mars. So, the story of the Viking landers, the ONLY probes designed to search for existing life on another world, is not over yet.

In 1975 two Viking spacecraft were sent to Mars, Viking 1 and Viking 2, each consisting in an orbiter and a lander; at the time this documentary was broadcast Viking 1 was in orbit of Mars with Viking 2 between one and two months behind. The Viking 1 spacecraft had entered orbit on June 19th, 1976, whilst its lander was deployed to the Martian surface on July 20th followed by the Viking 2 lander on September 3rd. The Viking mission objectives were to acquire high resolution images of Mars' surface, to study its structure and atmospheric composition and to search for evidence of life. In this documentary, hosted by James Burke, the emphasis is primarily on the landers' three biology experiments and the search for life in a much broader context; in Burke's own words: "If Viking finds that there is life present at the landing site it will considerably alter our thinking as to whether or not we are alone in the galaxy. So, tonight, we want to look at the search for life in the cosmic context; is anybody out there, and if so what should we do about it." Among those scientists featured are: biologist Joshua Lederberg, anthropologist Irven DeVore - quoted in my introductory discussion - biologist George Wald, physicist and astronomer Carl Sagan and biologist Gerald 'Jerry' Soffen, the Viking Project Scientist at Langley Research Centre whose job it was to oversee all of the mission's scientific investigations: he died at the age of 74 on November 22nd, 2000.

Joshua Lederberg
Joshua Lederberg, circa 1973
Irven DeVore
Irven DeVore
George Wald
George Wald, 1980's
Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan, 1978
Gerald Soffen
Gerald Soffen