Sometimes things take a surprising turn and fiction starts to look like fact. NASA’s Curiosity rover has made some of the most startling discoveries of any probe to land upon the Red Planet….
Wait, let me back up a minute….
In my youth my passion for science fiction books began with stories where Mars played an important role. As a child I read “The Martian Chronicles” for the sheer pleasure of Bradbury’s prose, and for the glorious images he created of an ancient world and a beautiful, dying race.
Edgar Rice Burroughs approached Mars in a more swashbuckling fashion. His classic “A Princess of Mars” catapulted me to a strange, dying world, where I followed John Carter from one heroic adventure after another, chapter by chapter. Barsoom was big, bold and full of epic battles and death-defying escapes.
And then there was Leigh Brackett and her Eric John Stark stories, “The Secret of Sinharat” and “The People of the Talisman”, and CL Moore’s Northwest Smith adventures, where we walked through a land of mystery, betrayal, death. It was a Mars much darker and more brutal, but still full of wonder.
I was very much a child of Mars. I knew nothing about the Mariner probe, which had reached Mars roughly two decades earlier. I was young, feeding on adventure, until school decided it was in my best interest to know what that probe discovered: Mars was not hospitable to life, nor did the deserts harbour the remains of a dying civilisation.
The dream had been shattered. It was heartbreaking to know that there were no ancient sea ports jutting out over a long dead ocean, no battling kingdoms, no canals, no crumbling cities, no princesses….
Mars was cold, barren, lifeless. It wasn’t dying; it was dead.
Fast forward through a series of other probes to the Red Planet and we end up with Curiosity. Not only did it make the most incredible landing of any probe but it landed in Gale Crater, a place that is geologically interesting to scientists. Here is a place of an ancient riverbed system, an alluvial fan that more than likely dumped water into a pond or lake of standing water, clay bearing rocks—all in all, it looks as if Curiosity is on the verge of discovering a Mars that was once more hospitable to life than we ever imagined.
It’s is starting to come together, an image of Mars dotted with rivers, lakes, maybe even a small ocean. Only time and more exploration will tell the full story. But my curiosity is peeked once more, my thoughts running wild at the idea of a living, breathing Mars.
Will there one day be fossil remains of strange land or water creatures, plant life, insects caught in amber? Who knows? Probably not.
However, my child-like imagination is already running far ahead of me, leaving my logical adult mind in the dust, dreaming up white bones cities and crumbling towers, golden-eyed beauties and red-skinned princesses….