NASA’s Viking mission data will now be available for every space enthusiast out there, thanks to the digitalization of the microfilm rolls containing the information collected for the first time on the red planet.
40 years ago, NASA and the humankind made the first contact with the red planet, thanks to the Viking I lander which arrived on the red surface on July 20, 1976. The mission changed scientists’ beliefs of the red planet, ts components, and its surface. This first contact started all of NASA’s current investigations and launched to the red planet marking the beginning of planet exploration.However, the data collected 70 years ago, could be easily lost.
In the 70’s, microfilms were the most modern and common way of storing scientific data, yet technology evolved and now microfilms are obsolete.
Exploring Mars for the first time
40 years ago, the world was able to see on their home screens the first looks to the red planet, minutes, after the first orbiter landed on Mars scientists, shared the images with the world announcing a massive step.
Two photographs were shared, one that showed the rocky floor on the red planet and a panoramic view of an unknown world. The historic arrival helped scientists gather information and gain a better understanding of Mars. From the Martian rocks to its soil, structure, atmosphere and composition, the first two explorations of the planet made today’s mission of sending humans to mars possible. Yet, 40 years after Mars continues to surprise scientists.
The two Viking missions completed their tasks, as each one of them, rode in different directions of the unknown planet. Researchers thought the orbiters will last up to 3 months in the red soil, yet they lasted three and five years respectively.
— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) July 19, 2016
Currently, NASA continues to work in order to achieve its purpose of sending humans to live on Mars.
When the Viking I arrived at the red planet a new mark in history was made, just short time after man’s first foot on the moon, science had managed to send an exploration robot to an unknown world.
The data collected in the firsts explorations in mars remain highly valuable to this day, especially for the 2020 launch of a new exploration mission. Yet the microfilms containing the data were stored away in NASA’s files and never saw light again. David Williams is a planetary curation scientist at NASA’s Space Science Data Coordinated Archive, and it is also the responsible for the digitalization of this relevant information.
In 2000, Williams received a call from a pharmacology professor called Joseph Miller, who teaches at the American University of Caribbean School of Medicine. The professor wanted information about biological experiments made in the Viking mission.
It wasn’t until that moment when Williams realized the importance of those stored microfilms since they were the only copy of the data. As he looked for the information in the archives, he determined it was time to digitize.
“I remember getting to hold the microfilm and thinking ‘We did this incredible experiment and this is it if something happened, we would lose it forever,” said Williams to the Smithsonian Magazine in a statement.
Williams along with his team of colleagues, endured in the long labor of digitizing the information one by one, that included the first images of the red planet, its surface, Mars’ volcano and biological information highly awaited.
The information gathered by Williams and his team will now become public allowing everyone to get a better understanding of the discoveries made by the Viking I and the Viking II orbiters.
— NASA (@NASA) July 20, 2016
Last week on July 22, NASA held a two-day event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the orbiters exploration and to discuss how these findings are still collaborating with the space agency mission to get humans on the red planet.
Langley Research Center in Virginia, hosted the two-day symposium event to discuss Viking’s findings. By the name of “From NASA’s first soft landing to humans on Mars’ scientists, specialists and NASA collaborators participated in the event.