For millennia, we, the Human Race, have been intrigued by Mars. Indeed, a good case can be made that we have an absolute affinity to the Red Planet; an affinity that dictated the development of early religions and even the world of conflict, as NASA notes. NASA also states: “The ancient Greeks were fascinated by Mars. Its blood red color led them to attribute the planet to Ares, their god of war. When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they renamed the gods and the planet Ares became the planet Mars.” As for Mars, the god, N.S. Gill says: “Mars sired Romulus and Remus, making the Romans his children. He was usually called the son of Juno and Jupiter, just as Ares was taken to be the son of Hera and Zeus. The Romans named an area beyond the walls of their city for Mars, the Campus Martius ‘Field of Mars.'” Mars was important to the Roman Empire when it came to the matter of something that we, as a species, are all too aware of: warfare. And sacrifice, too, as Patti Wigington states: “Before going into battle, Roman soldiers often gathered at the temple of Mars Ultor (the avenger) on the Forum Augustus. The military also had a special training center dedicated to Mars, called the Campus Martius, where soldiers drilled and studied. Great horseraces were held at the Campus Martius, and after it was over, one of the horses of the winning team was sacrificed in Mars’ honor. The head was removed, and became a coveted prize among the spectators.”
Then, there’s the matter of the ties between Mars and the world of science-fiction. Take, for example, H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi novel of 1897, The War of the Worlds. It’s a story which sees the human race up against an invasion by hostile extraterrestrials that live on the Red Planet. Moving on, there are Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic fantasy tales that chronicle the life of one John Carter. He’s a heroic, sword-wielding figure who has all kinds of adventures on faraway Mars, with the first story being published in 1912. Burroughs’ novels proved to be incredibly popular with the public of that era. They included A Princess on Mars; Swords of Mars; Synthetic Men on Mars; Thuvia, Maid of Mars; John Carter of Mars and…well…you surely get the picture.
On October 30, 1938, a radio-version of The War of the Worlds was broadcast on The Mercury Theater on the Air. It was directed by Hollywood legend, Orson Welles. So realistic was the drama, it led at least some of the listeners to believe that the Martians really were invading. In 1967, Hammer Film Productions released Quatermass and the Pit, the title of which was changed for American audiences to Five Million Years to Earth. It’s a gripping tale of ancient Martians who came to our world millions of years ago – and who genetically altered early, primitive humans. And, in a strange and very alternative way, the Martians of the movie are still wielding their strange, almost supernatural, powers in 1960s-era London, England, deep inside the tunnels of the London Underground rail-system.
In 1979, NBC broadcast a mini-series based on Ray Bradbury’s science-fiction novel, The Martian Chronicles. Mission to Mars was a big-bucks movie made in 2000 that starred Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins as astronauts who learn – to their amazement – that Mars is not the dead world that so many believe it to be. Then, in 2015, actor Matt Damon took on the role of astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian, a movie that saw Damon’s character forced to find a way to survive in the harsh environment of Mars. Moving away from the domain of sci-fi, there is the matter of the many and varied unmanned missions to Mars that have been undertaken by the United States, Russia, India, Japan, and the European Space Agency. The combined figure – of fly-bys, landings and orbits of Mars – now amounts to close to fifty. In other words, the world’s leading nations in the field of space-flight and astronomy have a deep interest in Mars. As a species, it’s almost as if we just cannot leave Mars alone, whether in mythology, history, science-fiction, or ambitious missions to the planet itself.