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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Of Man and Mars

By James Kirk


It’s hard to imagine the spell the planet Mars held over humanity once upon a time. Before the Mariner IV mission to Mars in 1964, the mystery surrounding our closest solar neighbor captured our imaginations and tapped into our fears. Humanity did not know what—or who—might be there. The red planet could be observed by telescopes but it withheld its secrets from us.

In 1898 English writer H.G. Wells published War of the Worlds, a work that is considered by many the first true science fiction novel. Wells was in fact both a writer and scientist, and speculation as to what Martians might be like, and how they perceive the inhabitants of earth, fueled not just his novel but the imagination of generations to come. The novel’s idea that beings from Mars might come to Earth with malicious intent was frightening to readers. And the potential for pubic fear of Martians was proven in 1938 when Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds was taken as fact by listeners instead of fiction.

Many great works of science fiction have been written about the planet Mars. Edgar Rice Burroughs, more famous today for creating the character of Tarzan, wrote numerous stories set on Mars which featured a human man named John Carter who winds up on a Mars that’s populated with humanoids and bizarre Martian creatures. The character was adapted into John Carter, a motion picture by Disney in 2012.

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles speculated that Martian civilization was advanced, and that the humanoid like beings were telepathic. Bradbury, like Wells, envisioned Martians without immunity to human bacteria.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke and The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov are books by well-known authors who were captivated by the mystery of the red planet.

Mars has been featured in my science fiction films, including two adaptations of Wells’ War of the Worlds. Since it has become known to observers that there are no cities or technology on the surface, science fiction films had speculated about what might be beneath the surface.

Mission to Mars with Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins and Red Planet starring Val Kilmer are two movies that speculate that there are secrets beneath the surface of Mars.

A human colony on Mars was once the stuff of pure sci-fi; now it is quickly becoming a possibility as scientists use data captured on Mars along with emerging technologies to make a theoretical Marian colony a reality. In May, 2013, US astronaut Buzz Aldrin called for a colony on Mars by 2040. My friend, author David Lee Jones, uses a Martian colony as a setting in his trilogy. As I write this, scientists are working on ways to put a man on Mars, should such a bold project be fully funded.

Is Mars in our future? Most certainly. But in exactly what manner mankind will live on or interact on Mars remains to be seen. For now, it remains the stuff of science fiction.