In 1946, NRL directed the development of a new sounding rocket called Viking, which was designed and built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. Viking embodied the successful, important innovations of a gimballed motor for steering and intermittent gas jets for stabilizing the vehicle after the main power cutoff. These devices are now extensively used in large, steerable rockets and in space vehicles. The engine was one of the first three large, liquid-propelled, rocket-powered engines produced in the United States. A total of twelve Viking rockets were launched from 1949 to 1954. The first attained a 50-mile altitude and Viking-11 rose to 158 miles, an all-time altitude record for a single-stage rocket. Through these Viking firings, NRL was first to measure temperature, pressure, and winds in the upper atmosphere and electron density in the ionosphere, and to record the ultraviolet spectra of the sun. NRL also took the first high-altitude pictures of the earth.
On October 5, 1954, during a launching over New Mexico, a camera mounted in an NRL Viking rocket took the first picture of a hurricane and a tropical storm, from altitudes as high as 100 miles. The picture embraced an area more than 1000 miles in diameter, including Mexico and the area from Texas to Iowa. This was also the first natural-color picture of Earth from rocket altitudes. The success NRL achieved in this series of experiments encouraged Laboratory scientists to believe that, with a more powerful engine and the addition of upper stages, the Viking rocket could be made a vehicle capable of launching an earth satellite. This led to NRL's Vanguard project.