Visions of Mars: Then and Now
By Jon Lomberg, Project Director and Editor-in-Chief of Visions of Mars
This disk contains a small sample of the vast body of literature and art about Mars.
Since prehistoric times, humans in all cultures have noticed the planet, a red star in the night skies. In the last half of the 19th century, popular conceptions of this mysterious red star changed. Before that time, all but a few scientists thought of Mars as a mythological god or an astrological force. But when planetary astronomers described it as a neighboring world that might be very much like Earth, an idea was unleashed that quickly gave birth to new genres of literature and art.
Beginning with Konstantin Tsiolkovskii in Russia, Kurd Lasswitz in Germany, H. G. Wells in England, and Garrett P. Serviss in the United States, writers closed out the 19th century and filled the 20th with a copious library of stories about Mars. Authors inspired and influenced one another. Artists visualized scenes from these tales or created images of the martian landscape based on the observations of contemporary astronomers. These written and painted visions of Mars appeared in books and comic books, on radio and television, in newspapers and animated films. Mars became everybody's favorite planet, the symbol of everything otherworldly. The people of the ancient Mediterranean had thought of the planet as the god of war. But to modern mankind this world has been more like a Muse from that same mythology, an endless source of artistic inspiration.
On July 20, 1976, the robot spacecraft Viking 1 made the first successful landing on the surface of Mars. Watching this historic event on monitors at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the popular television series Star Trek. He commented to me, "People in science fiction have a kind of partnership with the space program. They supply the hardware. We provide the dreams to keep people interested and identifying with all of this."
This partnership is what has inspired us to send this disk to Mars -- to honor and memorialize the role science fiction has played in fueling the dreams of the people who designed, built, flew, and paid for the missions that eventually reached across space. Would we ever have gone so far without these visions to inspire us?
Messages from Earth
Both the Soviet Union and the United States have pursued a program of Mars exploration with a series of flybys, orbiters, and landers. Some, like the Viking mission, have been spectacularly successful. Others, like the Phobos or Mars Observer spacecraft, have had heartbreaking failures.
This disk was originally carried aboard the Russian Space Agency's Mars 96 mission. That mission failed during launch and the disk, along with the rest of the spacecraft, ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Undeterred by that failure, the Planetary Society has continued its support of Mars exploration, and is responsible for the placement of this disk on the spacecraft in which you have found it.
This is not the first time an artifact with a message for the future has been sent into space. The Apollo astronauts left message plaques on the surface of the moon for future explorers to find. Each Viking lander carried a tiny dot of microfilm on which were recorded the names of several thousand people who had worked on the mission. The Phobos spacecraft, launched from the Soviet Union in 1988, carried a small aluminum plaque honoring Asaph Hall, the American astronomer who discovered the moons of Mars in 1877.
In 1971 astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake prepared a message for extraterrestrial, not human, recipients. They designed a plaque that NASA attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, bound for interstellar space after completing preliminary reconnaissance of Jupiter and Saturn. In 1977 Sagan was asked by NASA to design another message for the two Voyager spacecraft, destined to fly past all the worlds of the outer solar system except Pluto. Like the Pioneers, they would leave the solar system to drift forever in interstellar space -- unless found sometime in the distant future by travelers from elsewhere -- and would carry greetings from Earth, designed to be understood by an intelligent alien species.
Sagan quickly brought Drake into the project. Drake suggested sending a phonograph record, since it was about the same size and weight as a plaque and could carry far more information. He even devised a way in which pictures could be encoded as analog signals on the record. A team of scientists, artists, and writers created a complex message of images, human speech, sounds of Earth, and a sample of some of humanity's music. These records aboard the Voyagers flew past the outer planets and are now on their way to the stars.
Visions of Mars: The Disk
The initial idea for this message came from Louis Friedman, the Executive Director of The Planetary Society. In 1991 he discussed the concept with Planetary Society President Carl Sagan and Vice President Bruce Murray. Together they approached the Institute for Space Research in Moscow (IKI), which was developing the lander for the Mars 94 mission.
In the early 1990s, the smallest, lightest, cheapest, and most durable way of storing information was on the compact disk (CD). So the Society proposed recording on CD the text of some of the great works of martian science fiction.
This martian library was planned and recorded a decade and a half after the Voyager Record, and technology on Earth had evolved tremendously in those intervening years. Rapid improvement of computers and information storage systems allowed us to create a far more complex and lengthy message than was possible for the Voyager Record.
It was immediately evident that our chosen medium, an 8 centimeter disk called a CD-ROM (Compact Disk, Read Only Memory), would be able to store far more than a few novels. In fact, it would be possible to include a wide selection of works by many writers, and carry images and sound as well.
One area where 1990s disks were limited is in their ability to store moving images, which contain far more information than a still image or a page of text. We had hoped to include videotaped greetings from representatives of 20th-century science and science fiction But this was not possible on the small disk we were able to send, and that is why the enclosed greetings are in the form of still images and audio. Stephen Johnson and I translated the videotaped greetings into the form in which they appear on the CD-ROM.
In the years between the launch of Mars 96 and the launch of this spacecraft, information storage technology has continued to evolve. This DVD (Digital Video Disk) can hold far more information than the original CD. But we have retained the format and contents of the original disk -- itself already an artifact from an earlier technology.
Any piece of hardware to be flown in space requires testing and approval to guarantee that it will not impair any other spacecraft components or activities. This was also true for our disk. We needed to determine whether it could survive the stresses of launch, interplanetary cruise, hard landing, and exposure to ambient martian surface conditions for decades or centuries. Would the force of landing shatter the disk? Would the extreme cold of the martian winter cause it to become brittle and crack? Would the shiny metallic "flashing" on the disk surface chemically interact with the martian atmosphere? Would the radiation from the lander's power units, or the cumulative radiation dose from cosmic rays affect the disk in any way? How could the disk be sterilized to conform to the Planetary Protection requirements to prevent possible biological contamination of the martian surface by terrestrial microbes that had somehow sneaked aboard? And where should the disk be mounted on the spacecraft? How could it be best protected?
If, someday, people read these words on the Red Planet, they will, by their presence, have fulfilled the dearest wish of many who came before.
Clearly, The Planetary Society needed a technical manager who was familiar with the demands of spacecraft design. Society Director Friedman's choice was Gene Giberson, a recently retired engineer and Assistant Laboratory Director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the command center for many of the United States of America's satellites and robot missions to the planets. Giberson had managed the development of the Surveyor lunar missions, the Mariner 10 mission to Venus and Mercury, the Seasat ocean observation satellite, and the Infrared Astronomy Satellite. His experience and abilities permitted us to address all of the questions listed above, and many more as well, in order to make our delivery date.
Giberson began testing disks made of various candidate materials for their ability to withstand the stresses of space flight and the martian surface. Denis Oudard of Digipress, a French company that manufactures CDs, provided a great deal of technical guidance on the properties of these disks. Michael Stamp, at the Sony Corporation's fabrication facility in Terra Haute, Indiana, was also an extremely helpful consultant who provided sample disks for our testing procedures.
In the years following the Mars 96 launch, other CDs and DVDs were sent into space on different missions.. The requirements for mounting, labeling, and testing the disks are now well understood, and we are confident that this disk will arrive on Mars intact and remain playable for many years, awaiting its discovery by a future generation of explorers from Earth, who perhaps have come to Mars to stay.
Having determined that we could send a CD to Mars, The Planetary Society had to find a way of making one.
Time Warner Interactive Group (TWIG) was, in the early 1990s one of the leaders in the new field of CD products and development. CDs have the ability to store information in various formats on the same disk. In the not too distant future we will probably wonder how we did without multimedia information storage. But when this disk was originally created, groups like TWIG were inventing the conventions of this exciting new medium.
Blake Lewin, Director of Licensing for TWIG, was the lead TWIG person in the the production of this disk, which we had named VISIONS OF MARS.
The key TWIG people who worked on this project were Jim Bumgardner (Producer), Stephen Johnson (Art and Design Director), Blake Lewin (Project Manager), Cynthia Woll (Editorial Director), and Esther Gwynne (Editor). Bumgardner had to solve numerous problems in programming so many different elements -- text in several alphabets, audio, images, interactive operations. He also developed the book-like presentation (complete with turning pages) especially for this disk. Johnson designed the elegant interactive screens and book covers, and recorded every sound and image onto the disk. Using a limited computer palette of only 256 colors (to save space), he managed to reproduce every photograph and piece of art faithfully. Woll and Gwynne organized all the text materials and arranged for the data entry, copy editing, and proofreading in the eight languages used in the text.
In 2007 the contents of the disk were reformatted and remixed for the DVD that now contains what you are reading. This effort was led by Bruce Betts at The Planetary Society, who has contributed a separate listing of credits to the people involved in that effort, stored elsewhere on this DVD.
Visions of Mars: The Content
Half of the task in making this disk was figuring out how to do it technically. The other half was deciding what to send. Louis Friedman's very modest original proposal was to send one work each by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke, the "science fiction ABC" as he described them. In fact, the first name for this idea was "Project ABC." Carl Sagan hoped we could expand on that selection and include works by some of the other major writers whose visions of Mars had influenced popular perceptions of the planet.
The capacity of a CD made it possible to fulfill Sagan's goal many times over. We soon realized that we could create a tapestry of images and sounds as well as text. Of course once we started assessing the vast quantities of Mars-related materials, we knew that, copious as our selection might be, it could never be truly comprehensive. Even if we had had infinite storage capacity, we still would have been limited by the number of works we could locate, read, discuss, edit, secure permission to use, transcribe into digital format, proof, index, and record in a finite amount of time.
Our base of editorial operations was The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, a public library in Toronto, Ontario, Canada founded by author, anthologist, and critic Judith Merril. Merril, who had been deeply involved with the development of science fiction since the 1940s, had known and edited most of the major science fiction writers of the mid-to-late 20th century. She donated her extensive collection of books and manuscripts to Toronto on the proviso that the city use it to create a library. Originally called "The Spaced-Out Library," a phrase that used 1960s slang to challenge pretension (and to reflect Merril's own attitudes about conventional and stuffy titles), the name was eventually changed to a more staid one that at least has the virtue of honoring her role in founding it.
No one had a more comprehensive knowledge of the genre. Her memories of stories, writers, editors, events, and influences have left a strong imprint on this collection of tales of Mars.
John Robert Colombo is a scholar, author, and editor with a strong interest in science fiction and fantastic literature. He has been called "Canada's Master Gatherer," for his many published collections of oddly assorted categories of literary material. He seemed the perfect person to begin assembling lists of candidate fiction. The staff and resources of the library, Merril's experience, and Colombo's encyclopedic literary knowledge combined to power our editorial team.
Colombo and I generated the first lists of literary candidates and began discussing them with Merril. Soon we brought Lorna Toolis, the Head of the Merril Collection, into the group, which benefited from her own deep knowledge of the genre. Toolis directed her library's staff in searching out and acquiring copies of the selected stories, both famous and obscure, and later assisted the TWIG editors in the tedious and exacting tasks of manuscript collection and fact checking. Colombo also began establishing contacts with writers and editors in other countries as we searched for stories in languages other than English.
Our discussions and decisions were sent for review to Carl Sagan, whose own scientific interest in Mars was greatly stimulated by science fiction. Planetary Society Executive Director Louis Friedman has been professionally involved in the development and testing of vehicles and equipment for Mars exploration, and also had a major involvement in many aspects of both the editorial and engineering process.
We have tried to show how people on Earth have imagined Mars -- not Mars as a god or astrological force, but Mars as a place, an abode of life, and a destination. The stories were chosen to maintain an overall balance of countries and themes, styles and eras. The only qualification for consideration was that a work had to be about Mars or Martians.
This communication is made on behalf of our entire species in the late 20th century. To convey something of that global intent, we have included on the disk's title screen the names of Mars in a variety of Earth's languages. Astronomers established a precedent for this by naming the martian valleys -- thought to have been carved by the flow of liquid water in the distant past -- after the names for the planet in different cultures. A listing of the languages used appears in the reference section. Composer Bob Derkach created the haunting "Winds of Mars" that accompanies the title sequence. Derkach consulted with Mars atmosphere expert James Pollack on how winds might sound in the cold, thin air of Mars.
We also wanted the stories we assembled to tell, in Merril's words, "a larger story." During one of our many discussions, she observed that a complete exploration of space had taken place before anybody had actually left the planet. Modes of space travel, space suits, and all the other details of space flight had been generated in the pages of science fiction. There was an almost communal effort, transcending national and linguistic boundaries, by authors building on each others' ideas. Seen together these stories spring from common roots and play endlessly inventive variations on a shared theme.
"People in science fiction have a kind of partnership with the space program. They supply the hardware. We provide the dreams to keep people interested and identifying with all of this." -Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek
Many of the details of that effort and that community are revealed in the introductions to each story, which we hope provide background and context of interest to readers on Earth and on Mars. We have also incorporated the comments of Tobias Owen, a planetary scientist, who read the stories in order to assess how aware the writer was of the contemporary scientific knowledge about Mars.
We have tried to write for the human from a different culture, on another planet, in a distant future. That has been no easy task! Many events and attitudes that are common knowledge to us will be obscure to those who live on Mars. Therefore, we included a glossary in the reference section where more background on the names or concepts that recur frequently in the text can be found. Words that appear in boldface print can be found in this glossary.
Judith Merril has perhaps had more experience writing introductions to science fiction stories than any other person on Earth. But during the first part of this project, she was suffering from severe eye problems which limited her ability to write. So Colombo, Toolis, and I started drafting most of these introductions as our selection took shape. Thankfully, Merril's sight was eventually restored and she plunged into work, expanding many of our drafts to include details and comments about the writer or the directions of science fiction at the time the story was written.
Mark Washburn, an experienced space sciences writer (and Mars aficionado), contributed several introductions, including those for Asimov, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Swift, Gregory Benford, and Greg Bear; the brief 20th-century history (for the benefot of future readers to whom the events of our tumultuous century are obscure); and some of the material in the glossary. Astronomer Donald Goldsmith wrote the introduction to Voltaire. Frederik Pohl submitted, at our request, a recollection of how the creation of Outpost Mars was a perfect illustration of the way the science fiction community worked. Jeannette Bovard helped give the introductions their final shape with her excellent copy editing.
Finding stories in languages other than English was one of the hardest tasks. We were greatly assisted in this effort by Natasha Cherkessova Owen, formerly an English translator for the Russian Academy of Sciences. She helped us locate and translate much of the Russian material presented here. In Moscow, Svetlana Orekhova searched out additional candidates as well as biographical information about the Russian authors whose works we have sent.
Two experts in Japanese science fiction, Grania Davis and Gene van Troyer, drafted the introductions to the stories from that country and also provided us with the original Japanese (kanji) versions of the stories, which we had seen only in English. Van Troyer, assisted by Asakura Hisashi, prepared the general summary of Japanese Mars fiction. Van Troyer also expedited copyright clearance for all the Japanese stories.
Ivan Linscott of Stanford University told us about the Umberto Eco story, and the scholar and critic Alberto Manguel in France brought the Borges commentary on Bradbury to our attention. In Finland, Esa Eklund responded to an announcement that Jim Bumgardner sent out over an international electronic mail network and submitted the story by Johanna Sinisalo.
Jack Scovil of the Scovil, Chichak, and Galen Literary Agency very generously donated his services and managed the unenviable and unglamorous task of tracking down the copyright holders of nearly all the stories we have included. He was assisted in the early stages of this effort by Joshua Bilmes of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.
The amount of literary material inspired by Mars is so voluminous that our selection is, of necessity, incomplete. John Robert Colombo has compiled a bibliography of additional Mars fiction which can be found in the reference section. We have also created a similar listing of some of the important scientific books about Mars, written for both a technical and popular audience
The artwork on this disk is intended as a sampler of the best work in science fiction and astronomical art, as each genre has evolved along with the literary visions of Mars. The earliest popularizers of astronomy, like Camille Flammarion, realized that imaginative but plausible images of Mars would help make that world a real place in the minds of readers. Since the time of H. G. Wells, publishers have been eager to incorporate vivid -- and sometimes bloodcurdling -- images to enhance stories in books, newspapers, and magazines.
Our selection includes both astronomical art and science fiction art. Astronomical art is directly inspired by real scientific knowledge. Artists in this genre work in many different styles and media; for example, those represented on this disk work in media ranging from oil paints to computers to large boulders. Their work can range from the realistic to the intensely private and interpretive. Yet all the art in this category reflects the real Universe as revealed by astronomy and astronautics. Many of the artists working in this genre are involved with the teaching, popularization, and presentation of astronomy and aerospace. Their work is often seen in textbooks and science books, films, and television, planetarium and museum shows, and in "artists' renditions" commissioned by space agencies or private companies in the aerospace business.
Science fiction art has its basis in the storytelling tradition of the literary genre represented by the works on this disk. Astronomical landscapes are usually backdrops to the action of the story. This work is most often seen on the covers of science fiction books and magazines, or in film and television stories. Science fiction art exhibits are a major attraction at science fiction conventions which take place in different cities around the world, culminating in an annual World Science Fiction Convention.
Mars has always inspired art in both genres, and our changing images of the Red Planet are well reflected, we hope, in this portfolio. We have also included some images from film, comic books, and animation to help illustrate the extent to which visions of Mars have permeated every facet of 20th-century culture.
Brief captions accompany each image; more extensive notes on the artists and their works may be found in the reference section. Advice from experts in the fields of science fiction and astronomical art played a large role in my selection of pictures and preparation of notes and captions. I appreciate particularly the assistance of Ron Miller in suggesting and captioning the artwork by W. R. Leigh and Paul Fouché, and of Frederick C. Durant III in acquiring work from most of the Russian and European artists. David Hardy's advice and help was most useful in answering many questions about the English art. Frank Kelly-Freas and Laura Brodian Kelly-Freas helped me locate many of the science fiction artists and Forrest J. Ackermann provided generous access to his enormous collection of science fiction art and memorabilia. Wendy Gaines Bucci, agent for the William M. Gaines estate, and the Cartoon Art Museum each facilitated the inclusion of the material from comic books and comic strips. Paola G. Muggia Stuff, Curator of that Museum, provided the biographical material about Wally Wood and Winsor McCay. My mother, Lily Lomberg, made valuable contributions during copy editing of the notes.
Many worthy artists are not represented in this sampler of artwork, but we hope that their names and works will also survive to be enjoyed in the future. If this disk is ever seen on Mars, it is our desire that the recipients will take this portfolio as being representative of all the artists who have been similarly inspired.
Radio has been associated with Mars ever since Marconi, Tesla, and Edison each expressed interest in the possibility of radio messages coming from Mars to Earth in the early part of the 20th century. In 1938 Orson Welles and Howard Koch reinterpreted the H. G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds for radio, with unexpected and dramatic results. In a section of this disk called RADIO MARS we present some of that and other broadcasts.
Arthur C. Clarke supplied us with the rare radio interview featuring a discussion between H. G. Wells and Orson Welles.
The radio documentary about the Viking landing is part of a program I made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1976, as part of its documentary radio series IDEAS. The producer was Max Allen of the CBC. Allen helped me organize over 100 hours of material recorded on tape cassettes, and mix it into the audio tapestry heard on this disk. The program includes interviews with many of the important science fiction writers who witnessed this historic event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was a thrilling occasion -- a moment when science fiction and real space exploration truly came together. We hope that this program will convey what it was like on the night when the history of human presence on Mars really began.
Seventeen years later, Max Allen played an important role in the creation of this disk: locating the original master tapes of our Viking documentary, remixing and editing the Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast, and recording the greetings from Judith Merril and Carl Sagan. In general he put the impressive technical and studio facilities of the CBC's then new national headquarters in Toronto at our disposal. Lorne Tulk, a consummate recording engineer at the CBC, who had mixed the Viking program, lent his skills to the assembly of the RADIO MARS portion of this disk.
We are also extremely grateful to the distinguished actor Patrick Stewart, well known in our time for his role on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, for providing the narration for the audio section.
In 1993 it was much easier to store sound than to store moving images on CDs. That is the principal reason for including a section on RADIO MARS as opposed to sequences from film or video images of Mars. Radio as a medium has much to recommend it. You can listen to it while driving, for example. Nothing delights the makers of RADIO MARS more than the thought that one day someone might listen to the Welles or Viking broadcast while piloting a vehicle across the martian deserts or through the martian skies!
All the contributors to this disk have waived any royalties from sales of replicas of VISIONS OF MARS. The Planetary Society will instead use any such royalties to support projects that further the goal of Mars exploration. We hope that in some way the human discoverers of this disk on Mars will indeed have been helped by the Society's effort.
Almost without exception the owners of works we selected felt that passage to Mars was payment enough. Writer Ian McDonald might have been speaking for many of them when he wrote to us saying, "I immediately thought, yes, this is something I would give my eye teeth to be in on…this is the next best thing to going to Mars oneself." Many were also pleased that the royalties would be used, in a sense, to guarantee that there would be a future audience on Mars.
But a few people we approached, especially those representing the estates of deceased contributors, were entirely unmoved by the romance of having their work enshrined in the sands of Mars and refused to participate without royalties. Since some people had donated their works expressly on condition that no other contributor be paid if they were not, we had to omit, regretfully, some major works in both the art and fiction categories. Given the enthusiasm that virtually all the living contributors felt, it is hard for us to believe that the creators themselves would have wanted to be left behind. But of course they had no say in the matter.
Mars as Muse
It is astounding how many people have written about Mars, and how many other references there have been in other media. When we began collecting materials for this project, we expected to encounter Ray Bradbury and Chesley Bonestell. But Bugs Bunny and Bertrand Russell were surprises. The names that appear in these stories represent a wide range of 20th-century Earth's cultural legacy. But every contributor on this disk has shared a common inspiration.
Mars has been a motif in works that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is perhaps easiest to understand the influence of those works that were the most serious and carefully reasoned, Percy Greg's or Arthur C. Clarke's, for example. But even the least serious and least informed mention of Mars -- for example, the Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Marvin Martian that evidenced no knowledge of the real Mars whatsoever -- still shows how deeply the idea of Mars had penetrated culture on Earth.
One of the reasons The Planetary Society wanted to make VISIONS OF MARS was to honor the role science fiction has had in inspiring young people to enter careers connected with the real exploration of space, or, at least, to become citizens who support their governments' expenditures for planetary exploration.
Yet who can pinpoint the source of another's inspiration? Even the least realistic depiction, such as the fantasy Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs, strongly influenced the careers of scientists like Carl Sagan. Rocket pioneer Robert Goddard fondly recalls in his autobiography how impressed he was as a boy by Garrett P. Serviss' Edison's Conquest of Mars. Popular culture images of Martians may have won more adherents to the cause of planetary exploration than we know.
We have omitted all mythological and astrological images of Mars, since these seemed to us to be expressions of human religion and psychology, and not about the planet at all. Neither kind of image grasps the concept that Mars is another world, a place where other beings may live and where humans might one day live. That stunning idea, as powerful as any in the history of human thought, runs through every work on this disk.
If, someday, people read these words on the Red Planet, they will, by their presence, have fulfilled the dearest wish of many who came before. We hope that this gift travels safely across time and space into the hands of humans on the fourth planet, on Mars.
The excitement is building! LightSail is counting down to our test launch, set for May 20—and you’re invited.