Blues for a Red Planet

I continue my trip down memory lane through the Cosmos television series with the fifth episode entitle "Blues for a Red Planet". As expected it is about Mars, and takes the viewer from the first inkling of Mars in the story "War of the Worlds" by H. G. Wells, through to the Viking Missions of the late 70s.

The program begins with Dr. Sagan dealing with such topics as the story "War of the Worlds", and the resulting hysteria following the broadcast of  it by Orson Wells. He then takes on a more realistic journey through history and the visions of Percival Lowell and his imagined canals. Tied in with Lowell is the career of Robert Goddard who had the dream of someday getting a spacecraft to Mars, even though he publicly was content to get to the Moon.

The Viking missions were discussed next, during which the way that the various martian samples were tested was described, and this was followed by a treatise on human vs. alien chemistry.

When this series was first broadcast in the mid 70s there were rumours that mobile landers might someday be sent to Mars, and a very simplified one is shown in the series as well as an artists conception of one that could have been the predecessor to Spirit or Opportunity. The episode concludes with a brief discussion on one of the testing devices known colloquially as the "Wolf Trap" and designed by Dr. Wolf Vishniac who's experiment was removed from Viking due to budget cuts, but decided to continue his work in Antarctica where he was killed.

Will human's ever explore Mars? Will we even get back to the moon? Who knows, maybe someday if the various superpowers can decide that maybe rather than building / financing the military they could see what the benefits to the human race would be by simply co-operating with one another.

If you are interested in reading more about the exploration of Mars then there are numerous books out there, but be careful what you pick up as some of it can get pretty silly (and these are the non-fiction ones I'm talking about). One good book is "Mars" written by Ben Bova (1992), and its sequel "Return to Mars" (1999). Needless to say these both are fiction, but they are well researched, and provide the reader with a plausible story, and plot line.



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