Mars series – part one: What is the lure of the Red Planet?

Perhaps the best way to begin a series of posts on Mars exploration is to ask the basic question, “what is the lure of the Red planet?”

Nascent interest in Mars specifically goes back at least to the late 19th century.

Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835 – 1910) was an Italian astronomer who spent more than 40 years at the Brera Observatory in Italy. His observation of Mars led him to announce in 1877 that he had discovered what would become known as the ‘canals of Mars’ – really the correct word should have been translated ‘channels’, but canals stuck. These canals would eventually become verified as an optical illusion.

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Image credit: Map of Mars by Schiaparelli, Wikipedia

Astronomer Percival Lowell and author H.G. Wells’ imagination, around the turn of the 20th century, continued to fuel interest in Mars.

Percival Lowell (1855 – 1916) expanded on Schiaparelli’s discovery of the canals fancifully postulating that the Marscanals may have even been dug by intelligent civilization.

Lowell published his views in three books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). He thereby instigated the long-held belief that Mars had once sustained intelligent life forms. Wikipedia

Interest in Mars continued to be fired by the popular reaction to H.G. Wells’s book, The War of the Worlds (1897).

The War of the Worlds (1898), by H.G. Wells, is an early science fiction novella which describes an invasion of England by aliens from Mars. It is one of the earliest and best-known depictions of an alien invasion of Earth, and has influenced many others, as well as spawning several films and a television series based on the story. – Wikipedia

Picture from 1906 French edition of War of the Worlds.

Credit: thanks to Dr. Roger D. Launius for his valuable input from a presentation he did recently titled, “Transcendence and Meaning in the Last Fifty Years of Space Science,” Division of Space History, the Smithsonian Institution.


~ by tellinghistory on December 18, 2007.

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