"Viking 1" was the first of two spacecraft (along with "Viking 2") sent to Mars as part of NASA's Viking program. On July 20, 1976, it became the second spacecraft to soft-land on Mars, and the first to successfully perform its mission. (The first spacecraft to soft-land on Mars was the Soviet Union's Mars 3 on December 2, 1971, which stopped transmitting after 14.5 seconds.) Viking 1 held the record for the longest Mars surface mission of 2307 days (over 6​1⁄4 years) or 2245 Martian solar days, until that record was broken by Opportunity on May 19, 2010.

The landing on Mars was planned for July 4, 1976, the United States Bicentennial, but imaging of the primary landing site showed it was too rough for a safe landing. The landing was delayed until a safer site was found, and took place instead on July 20, the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The lander separated from the orbiter at 08:51 UTC and landed at Chryse Planitia at 11:53:06 UTC. It was the first attempt by the United States at landing on Mars.

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