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August 16, 2010 - Sifting the Sands of Mars

Sifting the Sands of Mars Since humans first imagined that the wandering points of light in the night sky were worlds unto themselves, we have felt a strong desire to reach out and touch those distant places. It is human nature to poke and prod, to discover with our own hands, and we are fortunate that we live in an age where sheer distance is no longer a barrier for that kind of contact. Thirty-five years ago this week, NASA launched the Viking 1 mission, which safely landed the first spacecraft on the surface of Mars. With its digging tool and sampling arm, Viking 1 could, at the behest of human controllers on Earth, fulfill a dream and reach out to sift the sands of Mars. In looking for signs of life on one planet, Viking 1 left behind a sign, scratched in the sand, of the life that exists on another.

Image credit: NASA / JPL / image processing by Roel van der Hoorn

Weekly Calendar

August 16-22, 2010

Holidays - Sky Events - Space History

Moon phase Monday 16

First Quarter Moon 2:14 PM ET

1963: M2-F1 lifting body makes first glide flight after being towed aloft by a C-47

Moon phase Tuesday 17

1966: Pioneer 7 launched
1970: Venera 7 launched
2006: Voyager 1 is 100 AU from Earth

Moon phase Wednesday 18

1868: Total solar eclipse leads to discovery of helium
1877: Asaph Hall discovers Phobos
1960: Discoverer XIV launched, first successful US photo reconnaissance satellite
1993: First DC-X flight
1999: Cassini spacecraft flies by Earth

Moon phase Thursday 19

1646: John Flamsteed born
1891: Milton Humason born
1982: Soyuz T-7 launched, Svetlana Savitskaya is second woman in space

Moon phase Friday 20

Mercury appears stationary
Venus at greatest elongation (46° E)

1953: First Redstone rocket launched
1960: Sputnik 5 launched
1975: Viking 1 launched
1977: Voyager 2 launched

Moon phase Saturday 21

1965: Gemini V launched
1972: OAO-3 launched
2002: First Atlas V rocket launched

Moon phase Sunday 22

1963: X-15 sets world altitude record for a winged craft (354,000 feet)
1976: Luna 24 returns soil samples from Moon

Suggestions for new history dates or better links? Corrections for errors on this page? Please e-mail me.