By Erik Moore
Forty years ago on July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 probe landed on the surface of Mars bringing a little bit of Minnesota to the red planet.
Two University of Minnesota faculty members contributed to the design and mission planning for NASA’s Viking Project, Helmut Heinrich and Alfred O.C. Nier.
Heinrich was a professor of aeronautical engineering in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics. His research specialized in aeronautical deceleration and supersonic parachute design, including work for NASA’s Gemini space capsule re-entry and the Viking programs.
NASA selected Nier, a world-renown physicist, to head the Entry Science Team for the Viking mission to Mars. When the Viking lander set down on July 20, Nier’s mass spectrometer detected the presence of argon and nitrogen in the Martian atmosphere, a significant discovery of the mission.
—Erik Moore is the University Archivist and Co-Director of the University Digital Conservancy. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives.