Mars observation dates back many thousands of year. Some of our earliest records come from people trying to calculate Mars’ positions it rotated around (what we now know is) the Sun. Helenistic, Greek, Indian and Chinese cultures were some of the first to really get a grasp on the planet’s size, distance, motions and shape of orbit. In 1610 Galileo first saw Mars through his telescope, and from there we’ve been on a non stop discovery train that brings us closer and closer to understanding this planet and how we will one set foot on it, for isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Dark spots, polar ice caps, canals and what looked like dust, everywhere. These observations were the cornerstones of our interest in this planet and have also convinced a lot of people, a hundred or so years ago, that there is or was definitely life on Mars. In 1877 Giovanni Schiaparelli, using a, for the time, high resolution telescope, saw what he believed to be long and straight lines on Mars. In Italian, he called these “canlis”, which means grooves, but got mistranslated to mean canals, connoting a population living and creating these features. The rumors of life on mars began to spread and even other astronomers were decidedly convinced that they too saw these canals.
Books got written and everyone for a while was convinced that we shared this solar system with other living, breathing, intelligent life forms. These “canals” turned out to be nothing more than an optical illusion created with the telescopes, but rest assured that it fueled the fire for knowledge and discovery that has helped fund and space programs around the world.
One of the first Maps of mars from Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli with the mistaken “canals”:
The science fiction community has been some of Mars’ greatest fans, but what was science fiction back in the day is now slowly becoming reality due to the extraordinary effort and imagination of select people. There is something about Mars being a planet, and not just another moon, that gives it some personality and intrigue. It has a lot to offer our population here on Earth, like; natural resources, a brand new land to discover, hope for a new colony and it is just all around bleakly weird enough to see what the hell is going on there.
One name that pops out to me when researching Mars and our history with it is Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun, yeah you read that right. He is an incredible man that deserves all the attention that he gets. To get straight to the point, he knew how to build rockets. He was a rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect and overall badass that came to America from Germany to help our military’s rocket program, but was soon assimilated into NASA’s rocket detail when they found out how much he knew. His first thoughts on Mars were about colonizing and were incredibly ambitious. He wanted to have “a fleet of ten spacecrafts (each with a mass of 3,720 metric tons), three of them unmanned and each carrying one 200-ton winged lander in addition to cargo, and nine crew vehicles transporting a total of 70 astronauts” go to Mars. 70 astronauts going to Mars! He also wrote a science fiction novel about colonizing Mars while working on the Mars details. He scaled his plans down quite a bit later on, but these plans being birthed in the 50’s, bowed down to moon plans that came on its heels and took priority. He is the man that oversaw the production of the rocket that took men to the moon, so you can’t blame him for really anything.
The man and his maiden:
With Mars back in the news for a quick moment as we make contact, I found myself interested again in this red planet, and our attempts to tame it. The next planet over from us (away from the sun), Mars, has always been the one that got away. It was right there, but not really. Mars may be the most viable option in terms of landing/colonizing a planet, but the amount of effort and funds it takes to get there, especially with humans on board, is extremely overwhelming to most sane people. I say most, because there were and currently are people who view putting humans on mars as totally feasible.
Our moon took a lot of attention away from Mars, but why wouldn’t it? It’s much closer and we can see the damn thing almost always just sitting there, waiting for us to get our shit together and visit again. It’s one thing to get a space craft to orbit an object, but its a whole nother ball game to land something on it, especially if that something contains humans. The manned flight to the moon went from being a scientific achievement to a political chest beating match between us and the Soviet Union. We were severely embarrassed when we found out that the Soviet Union beat us to space, so we had to beat them to the moon. I bring this up because it shows just how much was riding on the moon projects while Mars plans were few and far between, always eclipsed by the moon.
Don’t get me wrong now, Mars may have played second fiddle to the moon, but it has always remained on our, for lack of a better phrase, “bucket list”. People have had all sorts of ideas on how we will get to the moon, but I believe that only now are we living in a time where we have the technology to actually pull it off. We just landed a large rover, now why not humans? Many great minds pondered this and I will discuss some of these people in my next post.
Here is a great video of the lunar landing that has just recently been found. (NSFW: Heavy Language)