BBC Sky at Night Magazine

Simon Winchcombe

has worked in BBC Factual for the past 20 years and was series producer of The Sky at Night in 2018


There are also simple curiositie­s created by the passage of time. Patrick naturally gets older but speaks just as quickly. Computers get better but somehow less cool – in 1975, Viking scientist Gentry Lee proudly boasts of a 52lb ‘brain’ inside the lander with a vocabulary of 18,000 words. Then there’s how the technology of EDL – entry, descent and landing – has developed to avoid the ‘Great Galactic Ghoul’, that mythical monster which sits in Mars orbit destroying probes (and the reason why half of all missions to Mars have failed). Even geopolitic­s change. When was the last time anyone compared a distance in terms of ‘from here to Moscow’ as Patrick did in 1969?

We may never find definitive evidence of life on Mars, but as these wonderful archive programmes show, that possibly doesn’t matter. Mars isn’t just a place; it’s a continuing story of human exploratio­n, of scientific and technologi­cal achievemen­t. It’s plain to see in the emotion on the faces of the teams that have successful­ly – or unsuccessf­ully – sent their spacecraft to the Red Planet over the years.

In 2019, the programme Horizon postulated that someone watching could be the first person to set foot on Mars’s surface. Perhaps the next producer who makes a programme like this will be lucky enough to include that event.

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