Standing on Mars

One of my first books on Astronomy was about the planets.  It had a collection of pictures from the first missions to each of the worlds in our solar system.   Seeing those photos, the planets felt so alien, so different, and the perspective was like something out a 1950s science fiction comic.  But now, with modern advancements in imaging technology and rocketry, we can send heavier instruments to distant worlds, and see them in high definition.  It changes the perspective and makes the world seem more familiar than alien, more livable and real.  Take a look at the first picture from the Viking lander on Mars.

Mars from the Viking lander. Credit: NASA

Or a later one:

Mars from Viking. Credit: NASA

In both cases, the terrain is science fiction-y, surreal, inhospitable.  I can’t imagine myself going there.  But with new images, in high definition, it makes the place more accessible.  Here is a recent photo from the Curiosity Rover on Mars.

Mars from Curiosity. Credit: NASA

It’s the exact same landscape.  The same terrain.  But a wildly different perspective.  I can picture myself walking along with the rover.  I can see the hazy sky of Mars and imagine standing in front of the rocky terrain with mount Sharp in the background.  This could just as easily be a scene from a desert on Earth, and I can see myself going there.  I’ll bet you can too! This is what has made space so popular in the last decade.  It’s much more accessible.  The possibilities are grander and every person can see themselves adventuring on the surface of Mars.  We can see ourselves orbiting Pluto, flying over the geysers of Enceladus, or taking a trip to an exoplanet with three suns.

And it’s not a futuristic romantic adventure like it was in the past 50 years. This time it’s much more real.  Could we actually go to Mars? The answer to that question is closer to yes than it ever has been.

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