A tour of Mars in the human imagination, from ancient astrologers to modern explorers.
Mars and its secrets have fascinated and mystified humans since ancient times. Due to its vivid color and visibility, its geologic kinship with Earth, and its potential as our best hope for settlement, Mars embodies everything that inspires us about space and exploration. For the Love of Mars surveys the red planet’s place in the human imagination, beginning with ancient astrologers and skywatchers and ending in our present moment of exploration and virtual engagement.
As a child, Mars captivated my imagination, much like it did for many kids, thanks to H.G. Wells’ enthralling masterpiece, “War of the Worlds.” The allure of this neighboring planet stems from its intriguing similarities to Earth, which continue to fascinate scientists and explorers alike. As we embark on the next era of human exploration, Mars stands at the forefront, beckoning us to venture forth and uncover its mysteries.
National Air and Space Museum curator Matthew Shindell describes how historical figures across eras and around the world have made sense of this mysterious planet. We meet Mayan astrologer priests who incorporated Mars into seasonal calendars and religious ceremonies; Babylonian astrologers who discerned bad omens; figures of the Scientific Revolution who struggled to comprehend it as a world; Victorian astronomers who sought signs of intelligent life; and twentieth- and twenty-first-century scientists who have established a technological presence on its surface. Along the way, we encounter writers and artists from each of these periods who take readers and viewers along on imagined journeys to Mars.
This upcoming expedition to Mars presents an opportunity for humanity to escape into a realm that has, until now, only been imagined and observed from a distance. Matthew Shindell, a visionary explorer and scholar, has become instrumental in unraveling the enigmatic tales of this celestial body. With each passing day, our understanding of Mars grows, and the allure of this storied planet deepens.
In the cosmic dance of the solar system, Mars, the red planet, holds a unique position that has inspired countless generations to gaze up at the night sky with wonder. From its rusty-hued surface and its striking polar ice caps to its intricate canyon systems reminiscent of our geological wonders, Mars appears as both a familiar and an alien world.
The prospect of human beings setting foot on the Martian terrain ignites our collective imagination, as it would be the first time in history that terrestrial beings would lay eyes on an alien landscape with their own eyes. As we venture beyond our home planet, the significance of this momentous event cannot be overstated. It will be a testament to our relentless spirit of exploration and the human desire to push the boundaries of knowledge.
While we are yet to witness the full extent of Mars’ wonders, the early robotic missions have provided us with tantalizing glimpses of its geological history and potential habitability. Craters and ancient riverbeds tell tales of a planet that was once potentially lush and watery, while the search for signs of past or present life has become a central focus of our investigations.
Matthew Shindell, a prominent advocate for Martian exploration, has helped pave the way for future generations of spacefarers to step foot on the red soil. His dedication to unraveling the secrets of this intriguing planet has sparked widespread interest and excitement, inspiring new scientists, engineers, and space enthusiasts to dedicate themselves to the cause of interplanetary exploration.
As we march toward the realization of human missions to Mars, we must be mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. Overcoming the vast distances, extreme environments, and potential risks will demand unprecedented cooperation and ingenuity from the global scientific community. Nevertheless, the allure of exploring a world that has teased our imagination for centuries remains irresistible, and with each passing day, our technological prowess brings us closer to turning that dream into a reality.
Mars, forever intertwined with human curiosity and imagination, awaits our arrival with open arms. Inspired by the timeless work of H.G. Wells and guided by the tireless efforts of visionaries like Matthew Shindell, we stand at the threshold of a new age of exploration—one that promises to redefine our understanding of the universe and our place within it. The journey to Mars will not only be a testament to human achievement but also a giant leap toward unlocking the cosmic wonders that lie beyond the confines of our home planet.
By focusing on the diverse human stories behind the telescopes and behind the robots we know and love, Shindell shows how Mars exploration has evolved in ways that have also expanded knowledge about other facets of the universe. Captained by an engaging and erudite expert, For the Love of Mars is a captivating voyage through time and space for anyone curious about Curiosity and the red planet.
Matthew Shindell curates the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s collection of spacecraft, instruments, and other artifacts related to the exploration and study of our Earth and solar system. He co-hosts the Museum’s podcast, AirSpace. A historian of science, he is also the author of The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey and coauthor of Spaceships and Discerning Experts and coeditor of Smithsonian American Women.