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Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer

NSSDCA ID: 1975-075C-04

Mission Name: Viking 1 Lander
Principal Investigator:Dr. Klaus Biemann


The molecular analysis experiment searched for chemical compounds in the upper surface layer of Mars and measured atmospheric composition near the surface. The soil analyses were performed using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GCMS) that had high sensitivity, high structural specificity, and broad applicability to a wide range of compounds. Substances were vaporized from the surface material by a heating process while CO2 (labeled with C-13) swept through. The material was then carried into a Tenax gas-chromatographic column that was swept with hydrogen as a carrier gas. While passing through the column, substances were separated by different degrees of retention. The residual stream moved into the mass spectrometer (after hydrogen was removed by hydrogen-only-permeable palladium), and a mass spectrum (masses from 12 to 200 u) was obtained every 10 s for the 84 min of the gas chromatogram. In some cases, the same sample was reheated at a higher temperature and analyzed to detect less volatile materials. For atmospheric measurements, gases were directly introduced into the mass spectrometer, bypassing the gas chromatograph column.

Alternate Names

  • GCMS
  • Viking1Lander/GCMS
  • Volitilizer-Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer
  • urn:nasa:pds:context:instrument:gcms.vl1

Facts in Brief

Mass: 19 kg
Power (avg): 60 W

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Space Science (United States)


  • Planetary Science: Geology and Geophysics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this experiment can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. Klaus BiemannTeam LeaderMassachusetts Institute of
Dr. Duwayne M. AndersonTeam MemberUS Air Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering
Dr. Harold C. UreyTeam MemberUniversity of California, San Diego
Prof. Alfred O. C. NierTeam MemberUniversity of Minnesota
Prof. John OroTeam MemberUniversity of Houston
Dr. Tobias C. OwenTeam MemberState University of New York
Mr. Leslie E. OrgelTeam MemberSalk Institute of Biological Studies
Dr. Priestley Toulmin, IIITeam MemberUS Geological Survey

Selected References

  • Biemann, K., et al., The search for organic substances and inorganic volatile compounds in the surface of Mars, J. Geophys. Res., 82, No. 28, 4641-4658, doi:10.1029/JS082i028p04641, Sept. 1977.
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