On the same date, seven years apart, two historic missions landed on vastly different worlds from our own. These missions were the first of their kind, true pioneering expeditions for the good of all humankind.
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 touched down on the lunar surface. Just seven years later, on the same day, the Viking 1 lander touched down on the Martian surface. In just seven years, NASA had men on the Moon and a lander on Mars.
Today we are celebrating both historic landings by looking back at each mission.
“The Eagle has landed…”
In the final moments before touching down on the lunar surface, the Eagle’s computer began sounding alarms. Fuel was running out as Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong manually piloted the lunar lander.
The Eagle touched down with just 30 seconds of fuel to spare! This was the moment President Kennedy, the United States, the whole world, had been waiting for.
Then Armstrong uttered those famous words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had just accomplished what many, up until that point, believed was impossible. They successfully landed on the Moon.
Over half a billion people watched on television as Armstrong planted the first human footprint on another world. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the famed Apollo 11 landing is when Armstrong declares, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
This moment was a victory for the United States in the Space Race, but it was truly a victory for all people around the globe. That day, the crew of Apollo 11 showed the world that even the impossible is within reach.
Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Moon’s surface for two and a half hours. They photographed the lunar landscape and collected lunar soil samples. The two men spent a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes on the surface of the Moon.
Michael Collins, Armstrong, and Aldrin splashed down off the coast of Hawaii just four days after the first lunar landing. The crew of Apollo 11 were instant celebrities and were welcomed back to Earth with crowded ticker tape parades.
NASA’s newest program is looking to add more names to its exclusive list of Moon walkers. NASA’s Artemis program aims to land the first woman, and the next man, on the Moon by 2024. This time, the goal isn’t just to return to the lunar surface, but to stay. The Artemis 1 mission will be the first step in a much larger goal to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon.
Viking 1 lands on Mars
Just seven years after the historic Apollo 11 landing, NASA accomplished another major first.
On July 20, 1976, Viking 1 touched down on the Martian surface, becoming the first spacecraft to “successfully” land on the red planet. Although the Soviet Mars 3 lander was technically the first Martian lander, contact was lost just seconds after it touched down.
According to NASA, Viking 1 was part of a two-part mission to investigate whether there was life on Mars.
The Viking 1 spacecraft was comprised of an orbiter and lander. The lander touched down on Mars’ Chryse Planitia (Golden Plain) and immediately began photographing the surrounding landscape, including snapping the first photo on Mars (above).
The lander also used instruments to measure temperatures on the planet, which led to the discovery that Mars is a cold planet.
Just eight days after touching down on the red planet, the lander scooped up the first Martian soil samples with its robot arm.
Though the Viking 1 mission found no signs of life, the images and scientific data collected by the orbiter and lander did lead to important discoveries about Mars’ surface and atmosphere.
The orbiter operated until Aug. 7, 1980, when it ran out of altitude control propellant. The lander, however, remained in operation for six years, until Nov. 11, 1982, when a faulty command interrupted communications. Attempts were made to regain contact, but all efforts failed.
Nevertheless, Viking 1 was a historic landing, a true pioneering mission.
Today we celebrate Apollo 11 and Viking 1. One landed on the Moon, one on Mars.
Both were the first of their kind. Both missions pushed the bounds of what was possible and accomplished giant leaps for all humankind.