Flashback: 1978 NASA Film Shows Viking Discoveries

In what’s a sort of foreshadowing of the upcoming August 5 MSL landing, which is being called “seven minutes of terror”, here’s a flashback film from 1978 called “19 Minutes to Earth” which looks at the discoveries made by the Viking orbiter and lander, which made its historic arrival on Mars 36 years ago, on July 20, 1976.

In true late ’70s style the video is full of funky music and (what was then) state-of-the-art video graphics. Awesome.

Even more than the music, though, what’s interesting about the 1978 film is how the subject of microbial life is discussed. Both Viking 1 and 2 were designed to search for evidence of biological activity on Mars, which they did by digging into the Martian soil and looking for signs of resulting respiration.

Although the results were initially deemed inconclusive, further research into the Viking data has prompted some scientists to claim that the landers did, in fact, find evidence of life on Mars.

It’s still a much-debated topic, one that scientists hope to help settle with the upcoming research performed by Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

Funky music and all, the Viking programs paved the way for all future missions to Mars. Lessons learned from Viking technology have blazed the trail for Mars research, from Pathfinder’s Sojourner rover to Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and ESA’s Mars Express. Very soon Curiosity will continue on with the legacy of robotic exploration of the Red Planet, and someday I’m sure our children and grandchildren will look back at the “funky videos” of our time.

Let’s hope that by then they’ve made their own great strides in space exploration and have found answers to the questions that inspire us today.

Video: NASA. Image: artist’s concept of the Viking lander (NASA).