Augmenting Viking

Naugle and Cortright debated the design of Viking. Cortright (in contrast to Pickering) had been a big supporter of Voyager and had been burned by the cancellation. He was now cautious, wanting to keep Viking’s budget (and thus political visibility) low. He was willing to eliminate the orbiter (assigned to JPL). Naugle believed the orbiter was crucial to determining the best place to land. This mission was now about finding life. The more observation of the Mars surface, the better. But Naugle was also concerned about money and whether Paine and Congress would go along with a bigger, more complicated project. After much discussion in November, Cortright came down for the minimal project. Naugle opted for a project intermediate in scale. Neither favored an option that would be even more advanced, aggressive, and expensive in terms of technological development.21

In December 1968 Naugle met with Paine. Naugle recalled the sense at the time that the United States was still competing with the Soviet Union, and that competition included the robotic Mars program. As he later wrote, “We had to establish a good, solid, scientific mission.” If “the Russians landed [on Mars] successfully in ’71 or ’73, what we landed. . . had to be something that would stand up against what they had done.” It was in this context that Naugle proposed an intermediate design. Paine told Naugle to go with the most tech­nically advanced and challenging Viking project possible, however. For Paine, NASA was about bold endeavors.22 He regarded Viking (and it was he who gave the mission this name) as NASA’s most important mission outside human spaceflight.23 Paine wanted NASA to think big—and “big science” was OK. He was willing to take risks that were both technical and political.24 However, this decision meant that the estimated cost would rise substantially from the $384 million NASA used to sell the program under Webb.

Paine’s decision catalyzed organization of Viking as a project. Paine con­firmed that Naugle’s OSSA would be fully in charge. This meant that Naugle would have Langley, as lead center, under his authority for this particular proj­ect. Langley, an aeronautics-oriented center, was typically under another NASA directorate, but for this project, Naugle would also have responsibility. Naugle would in addition have JPL, as was usually the case for OSSA.

Paine affirmed that JPL would design the orbiter and Langley would develop the lander and be overall technical manager. The lander would carry extraordi­narily sophisticated science payloads, serving many disciplines, particularly exo­biology. NASA would have to involve many scientists, from both government and universities, in decision-making roles—70 as it turned out, organized into teams. There would be NASA centers other than Langley and JPL participat­ing as necessary, particularly Ames, with its exobiology expertise, along with a number of industrial contractors.

Paine refashioned Viking into a larger-scale technical project than contem­plated previously. It was destined to be a great leap beyond Mariner. He knew history would link Webb with Apollo and the Moon. Paine envisioned Mars as his potential legacy, with Viking his first major decision in this respect. Viking would rival Apollo in some ways when it came to technical ambition. The risks were immense, the technical challenges unprecedented. To bring down risk, NASA opted for redundancy as much as possible. For example, two Vikings would go to Mars in order to lower the risk of failure. Paine wanted Viking to succeed and was willing to spend more to do so. Webb had sold Viking as a single mission—not a program. That was the best he could do. What came after, no one knew for sure, but Paine and others were hopeful it would help launch a sequence of robotic missions leading to human spaceflight to Mars.

The man to whom Paine, Naugle, and Cortright looked to integrate the various parts of Viking was James Martin, a highly experienced and hard-driving engineer and project manager at Langley. Age 48 in 1968, Martin was a tall, crew-cut, no-nonsense kind of man. Martin moved rapidly to establish a project office and begin development of Viking hardware. He was joined by Gerald (“Jerry”) Soffen, who left JPL to come to Langley as chief scientist for Viking. Pickering resisted the reassignment of Soffen but lost again in the intercenter dispute.

Soffen, age 42, was one of the few exobiologists at NASA. Soffen went to Langley because he figured “that was where the action” would be in exobiology. That was because of Cortright and his power within the agency. Cortright and the “Lord were very closely allied with one another,” Soffen later recalled.25 Soffen knew he would be “the interface between [NASA] engineering and the outside [science] world of academia.” The external scientists, he said, “would be the only ones able to interpret our data from Mars.” He would have to manage some extremely large egos among the many scientists who would be enlisted in the quest for life at Mars, most notably science superstars Joshua Lederberg and Carl Sagan.26

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