America in Space

In response to the Soviet Union's progress, the United States accelerated efforts to launch its own satellite. On December 6, 1957, the Vanguard, a rocket built by a U.S. Navy team, blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral. However, it failed to develop enough power to lift off the launching pad and toppled over on its side, exploding into flames. It was a crushing blow for America, but JPL engineers quickly began working on a second spacecraft called Orbiter. This was a different kind of...

Notes

Introduction The Mysterious Red Planet 1. William Sheehan and Stephen James O'Meera, Mars The Lure of the Red Planet. Amherst, NY Prometheus, 2001, p. 12. Chapter 1 Early Observations and Beliefs 2. Carl Sagan, Cosmos. New York Wings, 1995, p. 51. 3. Quoted in Sagan, Cosmos, p. 60. 4. Isaac Asimov, Mars The Red Planet. New York Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1977, p. 29. 5. Quoted in William Sheehan, The Planet Mars A History of Observation and Discovery. Tucson University of Arizona Press, 1996,...

Clone of the Earth

Observations of Mars continued during the eighteenth century. In the late 1700s a British astronomer named Sir William Herschel used his own telescopes to intensively study Mars, and he began to see many similarities with Earth. After measuring the orientation of the Martian poles, he discovered that Mars and Earth were tilted at nearly the same angle, which meant that both planets had four different seasons. He could see that the Martian polar caps grew and shrank as the seasons changed, so he...

The Martian Frenzy

Word of the Martian canals traveled fast and soon became front-page news throughout Europe and America. A headline from an August 12, 1877, editorial in the New York Times questioned Is Mars Inhabited and people everywhere wondered what sort of living creatures dwelled on the surface of Earth's neighbor. Noted scientist and writer Sallie Baliunas describes the stir caused by Schiaparelli's announcement Speculation about the canal builders spread wildly. The public wished to believe that...

Mars from the Inside

After years of intensive study, scientists have gained a wealth of knowledge about Mars. There are still many unknowns, though, and one of them is the exact composition of the planet's interior structure. Scientists cannot analyze the Martian interior in the same way they analyze Earth's by reviewing seismo-logical data, which is the measurement of earthquake activity. Because that sort of information is not yet available about Mars, researchers must analyze statistics about the planet's size,...

One Ton Beach Ball

At the same time MGS was being developed, another Mars mission was in the works. Since the time of the Viking mission, the United States had not sent a lander to explore the Martian surface. NASA scientists wanted to resume the exploration, but they needed a solution that was more affordable than the Viking mission. Their answer was Pathfinder, a relatively low-cost spacecraft that would leave Earth via a launch vehicle, spiral millions of miles through space, and land on Mars without a...

Failure and Success

Seventeen years passed before the United States attempted another journey to Mars. The Viking mission had cost a staggering 1 billion, and NASA needed to address other priorities such as developing a space shuttle, which consumed the agency's time and budget. Then on September 25, 1992, Mars exploration took off again when an orbiter called Mars Observer was launched. Unlike all prior Mars-bound spacecraft, this one made the journey alone, without a companion. Mars Observer's main goal was to...

The Story of the Martian Canals

As larger and more powerful telescopes were developed, astronomers continued turning their eyes to the heavens. They paid the most attention during oppositions, which was when Mars and Earth were on the same side of the sun. That was when the two planets were closest together and Mars flared more brightly than ever in the sky. The opposition of 1877 was an especially good time for sky watching because Mars and Earth were about 35 million miles apart as close as they could possibly be. It was...

Works Consulted

New York Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1977. Written by an author long revered for his scientific writings, this is a study of Mars from the earliest discoveries through the Viking mission in 1976. Joseph M. Boyce, The Smithsonian Book of Mars. Washington, DC, and London Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002. A well-researched, detailed book that discusses Mars's climate, atmosphere, surface, and interior, as well as giving in-depth descriptions of space missions....

Rugged Rocky Planet

Although the terrain on Mars is more like Earth's than any other planet's, it is extremely rugged and desertlike. Much of the Martian surface is covered with thick, powdery soil that has the consistency of flour, and the ground is strewn with jagged rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes. After viewing close-up photographs of Mars, some people have described the planet as lifeless and desolate, but the late Carl Sagan viewed it in a very different way The landscape is stark and red and...