Physical Properties of the Martian Surface from the Viking 1 Lander: Preliminary Results

Science  27 Aug 1976:
Vol. 193, Issue 4255, pp. 805-809
DOI: 10.1126/science.193.4255.805


The purpose of the physical properties experiment is to determine the characteristics of the martian "soil" based on the use of the Viking lander imaging system, the surface sampler, and engineering sensors. Viking 1 lander made physical contact with the surface of Mars at 11:53:07.1 hours on 20 July 1976 G.M.T. Twenty-five seconds later a high-resolution image sequence of the area around a footpad was started which contained the first information about surface conditions on Mars. The next image is a survey of the martian landscape in front of the lander, including a view of the top support of two of the landing legs. Each leg has a stroke gauge which extends from the top of the leg support an amount equal to the crushing experienced by the shock absorbers during touchdown. Subsequent images provided views of all three stroke gauges which, together with the knowledge of the impact velocity, allow determination of "soil" properties. In the images there is evidence of surface erosion from the engines. Several laboratory tests were carried out prior to the mission with a descent engine to determine what surface alterations might occur during a Mars landing. On sol 2 the shroud, which protected the surface sampler collector head from biological contamination, was ejected onto the surface. Later a cylindrical pin which dropped from the boom housing of the surface sampler during the modified unlatching sequence produced a crater (the second Mars penetrometer experiment). These two experiments provided further insight into the physical properties of the martian surface.