Earlier today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known by its famous acronym, NASA, landed its latest Mars rover, Curiosity, on the red planet. Its journey of some 350 million miles, took it the better part of 256 days and it’s mission is projected to last about two years – two Earth years, I suppose I should say, now that Curiosity is on a planet whose year lasts almost two of ours – during which it will search for signs that Mars may once have supported life.
For readers of science fiction, of course, Mars has supported life for well over a hundred years, even before the great H. G. Wells’ famous The War of the Worlds. Since then, we’ve visited Edgar Rice Burroughs ’ Barsoom and C. S. Lewis’s Malacandra, and seen the red planet through the eyes Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, C. L. Moore, Kim Stanley Robinson and <ahem> Chuck Jones, just to name a few.
Mars has clearly inspired vast numbers of writers and artists – not to mention film-makers and even musicians – but will the landing of the latest Mars rover, I wonder, inspire any budding scientists, the way the first lunar landing inspired a generation? With the eyes of much of the world glued to their television sets and web browsers for news from the XXX Olympiad, and children (of all ages!) no doubt practising their cycling and long jumps and gymnastic routines, is there any room in today’s world for heroes and heroines of a more cerebral nature? I’d like to think there is. What do you think?