Look to the West this week at sunset if clear skies prevail. Whistle with amazement at the silver-white beacon that is Venus high above the horizon. As dusk deepens you should also be able to hum a tune to the presence of Mars below Venus' gleam (the two planets came within one degree of each other on February 21st). Mars' ruddy speck may have inspired fewer ballads of yore, yet it is this fainter, red planet that subtly draws humanity ineffably to dance upon its surface. Over the past forty years we have sent several probes to begin exploring that planet's past geology and environment, a landscape that hints alluringly at the possibility of having harbored life long ago. In the decades ahead humanity, riding our technological chariots and wielding instruments of which the mythical gods could never have even dreamed. In all probability we mere mortals will send forth expeditions to closely examine the mysteries hidden within Mars.
Planetary Neighbors Preparing for a Fictional Duet?
Sadly, such an expedition may not happen in many of our lifetimes, still we need not yearn without full dissatisfaction. Experiencing the storied song, albeit fictionalized, of human exploration of the Mars' wilderness is indeed an option. Andy Weir's recent novel The Martian provides a gripping tale of an expedition on our neighboring planet that immerses one fully in that alien and hostile environment. The tale orchestrates an Apollo 13 style emergency on the surface of Mars that hurdles you through scenario after scenario that challenges stranded astronaut Mark Watney to his limits. Weir's rigorously researched, scientific detail of Mars' harsh conditions thrusts you into Mark's predicament where only a combination of extreme, survival gear, improvised cleverness and long-distance teamwork can invoke any chance for survival
I'll leave it to you to pick up the book, or wait for the movie, if such an adventure appeals to you. The real, non-fiction, adventure to Mars will be a future generation's experience. Still there is inspiration in knowing that one day humanity will peacefully explore in person the red planet...and beyond, Until then our imaginations are still privileged to dance to the songs that well-crafted stories conjure.