The Day Mars Became Real For Me
November 30, 2013
I was a science fiction fan for as long as I can remember; but then one day when I was about 9 or so (not too long after seeing "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" on late-night TV for the first time), the Viking lander images from Mars came in. They were all over the media. And I was, as a 9 year old scifi nerd, assuredly captivated.
Then several months after the landing, my father's "National Geographic" came in the mail (the Jan. '77 issue) and it had a huge article on the Viking missions with large, glossy color and B&W photos from the mission. That was it! In stunning realism and then-unprecedented clarity, I saw a desert that was not unfamiliar to me at all (especially living in southern California), but this desert was different; it had a rust-colored sky, almost like something out of Star Trek. But this was real.
I remember pulling out a folded panoramic full-color image of the Chryse Planitia Viking One landing site and even seeing the furrowed trenches dug by this intrepid robot onto an alien world. We not only could SEE this alien world, but by telepresence, we could TOUCH it as well.
The Mars I saw in NatGeo was not a set in a movie or TV show. The formerly mythical planet Mars suddenly became as real as the Mojave. And just as tangible, too. Reading about the thin, carbon dioxide atmosphere and extreme cold also served to remind me of the differences of this world, but it didn't matter; I was a born-again space geek.
A few years later, my family saw (and read) Carl Sagan's COSMOS and then bought our first of several telescopes. I wondered what other possible distant-yet-familiar 'Mojaves' may be out there? How would they be alike and how would they differ? In my adulthood, I joined the Planetary Society and have shared the dream with many other likeminded individuals around the world, who will perhaps see their own 'Mojaves' or 'Gobis' or perhaps (optimistically) their own alien rain forests someday...
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.