The three-dimensional color images sent to Earth from Mars by NASA's Spirit rover bring back warm memories for an Abingdon resident.
When Peter Paul Purol III steps out into the chill of a winter's night and looks skyward, he is comforted by the knowledge that a piece of his artistic handiwork is still quietly resting on the Red Planet's Chryse Plain, 23 degrees north latitude.
Purol, an unabashed fan of outer space and science fiction, was a 17-year-old student at Patapsco Senior High School and Dundalk Vocational Technical Center when he entered a 1975 national competition sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The agency was seeking designs for a mission logo that would grace the flanks of the its Viking Lander scheduled to land on Mars in 1976.
Descended from a family of artists, Purol has been drawing all of his life.
"I remember in the third grade, I was a fan of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and I was always drawing the submarine with a friend," he told The Sun in a 1975 interview.
"He just kept up with it," said his mother, Sonia Purol. "He drew a lot of dinosaurs and a lot of space ships."
As a youngster, Purol immersed himself in books and read everything he could about outer space and NASA. His interpretation of Mars was refined by photos sent to earth by earlier space probes. "It's a dusty surface, mostly craters," he told The Sun.
His grandmother gave him a telescope in the 1960s, and he spent many evenings in the backyard of his boyhood home in Dundalk, staring into the celestial blackness.
In his submission to NASA, young Purol explained his design of combining Norsemen with the Viking Lander.
"The main features consist of a flagged mast, sail and a figurehead - the letter 'V' serving to form the figurehead. To further relate the two, the style of the word 'Viking' has been rendered with a certain Scandinavian quality," he wrote.
Other features of the logo include the Earth, moon and American flag. The Viking's dish-antenna is turned toward Earth, "eager to reveal its findings to us," he wrote.
When Edward P. Dyson, his commercial design teacher at the Dundalk center, learned that his student's design had been selected by NASA, he said, "I just said it's a helluva design. I had no doubt that he would win it."
"I really had an excellent time back then. And when it came, it was a little overwhelming," said Purol, 45, now a pre-print technician at Consolidated Printing Co. in Abingdon.
On July, 20, 1976, the Viking came to rest on Mars after a 10-month journey from Earth. Twenty-five seconds after making contact with the surface of the planet, it began transmitting images earthward.
"They flew me out to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and I was there to see the incoming shots from the Viking. And you could see my emblem beneath the U.S. Flag and Bicentennial logo," said Purol. "The photos came very slowly, but I remember the time. It was 2:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Mars. The date was July 26, 1976."
After graduating from high school in 1976, Purol served in the Navy as a gas turbine mechanic aboard the USS Elliot, a destroyer, until being discharged in 1983.
While in the Navy, he continued applying his artistic talents to various projects.
"When I was in boot camp in Orlando, Fla., I designed our company flag," he said.
After returning to Baltimore, he earned an associate's degree in graphic design from the then-Dundalk Community College, and has worked continually in the business for the last 20 years.
"I still enjoy doing space art and draw such things as planetary bodies, star fields and colorful nebula," he said.
"If I had a chance to go to the moon - for that matter anywhere in space - I'd go in a heartbeat. After all, I don't want to go there as dust," he said, laughing.
"The fact that the Viking logo is still out there is cool. I'm still very proud of it. I don't mean to brag but it still comes up in conversation once in a while," said Purol. "And I am still grateful that that I was given the opportunity to design it."
The Viking Lander's ability to send photos and other scientific data defied the expectations of its designers, whose plans called for it to only operate for 90 days. The spacecraft continued to send vital material back to Earth until finally going dark in November of 1976.
"I go outside and look up and realize that a small part of me is still out there. And that is so neat," said Purol.
In 1981, Robert A. Frosch, then NASA's administrator, renamed the Viking 1 Lander in honor Thomas A. Mutch, who had led the spacecraft's imaging science team. He had been killed a year earlier while climbing in the Himalayas.
An article published yesterday in the Today section of The Sun incorrectly stated the lifetime of the Mars Viking Lander. The spacecraft continued sending scientific data until 1982.The Sun regrets the error.