From the people who know Mars best, a collection of close encounters.
- By The Editors
- Air & Space magazine, August 2012
(Page 2 of 4)
Elon Musk, founder and CEO, Space Exploration Technologies. Advocate of human colonization of Mars.
Memorable moment: I find the thought of people one day looking up from the surface of Mars and seeing the blue dot of Earth really inspiring.
Biggest surprise: The discovery in recent years that Martian soil can be used to grow Earth plants with very little effort, apart from warming it up and adding fertilizer.
Human landing: Approximately 2025.
Matt Golombek, senior research scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Chief scientist on Mars Pathfinder mission and landing site scientist for the Mars Exploration Program.
Memorable moment: The landing of Mars Pathfinder on July 4, 1997, will always be my most memorable encounter with Mars, when after years of work on the mission we received back stunning new images from the surface. We were surprised at the public reaction to the landing, with front-page headlines for a week and the largest Internet following in history at that time.
Biggest mystery: What was the early environment on Mars like? We have a lot of information to indicate an early wet and warmer environment on Mars. We still don’t know how wet and how warm and how long such conditions lasted. A Mars that was warm and wet for short intervals is very different from one that was warm and wet for many millions or even tens or hundreds of millions of years.
Human landing: No idea.
Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Mars Trilogy and 2312.
Memorable Moment: One night I went to the Planetary Society’s headquarters in Pasadena, California, for a Ray Bradbury birthday party, and after we celebrated the great Martian, who was charming and inspirational as always, a lot of us drove up to Mt. Wilson, the old observatory in the mountains overlooking Los Angeles. We had to climb stairs to get up to the platform where one looked through the giant eyepiece coming out of the side of the telescope. The astronomers on hand said viewing conditions for Mars were poor, though they were getting great views of Neptune’s moon Triton. But they aimed the beast at Mars for our sakes, and when I looked through the eyepiece, as big as a cereal bowl, and caught sight of Mars, I was stunned to see it filled the whole viewing circle, and was floating there, red with dark patches that, yes, were connected by straight black lines! I had to laugh.
Biggest surprise: I remain surprised at how big Olympus Mons is, like a round Colorado some 21 kilometers [13 miles] higher than the surrounding terrain. The whole volcano has a circular escarpment, a cliff some 10 kilometers high all the way around it. I set my climbing story “Green Mars” on one point of this cliff, and I am still curious to know what the explanation for that escarpment is.
Human landing: My guess is we’ll have humans there in 2031.
Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. Deputy principal investigator for the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Memorable moment: Looking at images of the south polar region of Mars, taken just as the sun was rising at latitudes equivalent to the Antarctic circle on Earth, when we were trying to find a safe landing site for Mars Polar Lander. [The spacecraft, designed to study the soil and climate near the south pole, crashed into the surface of Mars in 1999.] The pictures showed an ice-covered surface with unearthly terrain, with unexpected spidery channels and cracks—not a safe, smooth spot to set down a small lander.