One “gi­ant leap for mankind” put the red planet firmly back on the cul­tural agenda

BBC History Magazine - - The Power Of Mars -

Af­ter man first set foot on the moon on 20 July 1969, hu­mans walk­ing on Mars – rather than Mar­tians walk­ing on Earth – seemed more of a dis­tinct, if dis­tant, pos­si­bil­ity.

The moon land­ing had a global psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact. For the first time, hu­man­ity could claim to have found, walked on and pho­tographed a truly new land.

The moon it­self was rarely taken se­ri­ously as a pos­si­ble home. In­stead, in the af­ter­math of Neil Arm­strong’s ‘gi­ant leap’, it opened up the tan­ta­lis­ing pos­si­bil­ity of hu­mans colonis­ing Mars. If only the at­mos­phere were not too thin; if only there were wa­ter.

Ter­raform­ing – the process of mod­i­fy­ing another planet’s en­vi­ron­ment to make it hos­pitable to hu­mans – was a word first used in a 1949 short story, but it be­came a sta­ple con­cept of science fic­tion nov­els from the 1970s on­wards. One of the most fa­mous ex­am­ples is Kim Stan­ley Robin­son’s Mars tril­ogy (1993– 96). This cen­turies-long saga drew on con­tem­po­rary sci­en­tific and philo­soph­i­cal devel­op­ments to take read­ers from the touch­down of the first 100 peo­ple on Mars to their sub­ter­ranean habi­tat, the drilling of deep holes to re­lease heat and wa­ter, and the ul­ti­mate thick­en­ing of the at­mos­phere.

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon in 1969. Sud­denly Mars didn’t seem so unattain­able

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