Evolution and The Journey to Mars (Issue #2)

by: Nicole Willett

dinodeadcrashApproximately sixty-five million years ago a meteor hit the Yucatan Peninsula.  This event wiped out the dinosaurs (mostly) which had reigned supreme for nearly 240 million years.   While nothing is certain, it is safe to say that dinosaurs never invented an airplane or built a spaceship, although they had plenty of time to do so.  There has not been any archaeological evidence of such progress by dinosaurs.  Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for a mere ~200,000 years.  This is just the blink of the eye astronomically speaking.  However, in this short time we have lived here, we have accomplished many great technological feats.

Our ancestors “discovered” how to make fire, invented the wheel, figured out how to lift blocks of stone weighing thousands of pounds to build enormous monuments, learned how to cultivate crops, and began establishing towns and cities.  This was the beginning of human civilization as we know it today.  Groups of people began living and working together to accomplish a common goal.  Our goals have changed many times since the dawn of civilization.        
The planet Mars has been stared at, portrayed in artistic endeavors and studied for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  The road to the Red Planet has been long and interesting.  It has taken many people collaborating over the past 100 or so years, to collect enough data to design and accomplish Mars missions. 

The first real steps toward Mars began in 1903.  On December 17th, Orville and Wilbur Wright took a bi-plane, made of muslin and spruce, out to a field in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  As we are well aware, they accomplished the first human airplane flight.  These two brothers changed life on Earth as we knew it.  Since that time technology has moved at an exponential pace.  For instance by the time World War I broke out in 1914, there was already aerial warfare, and by World War II, Germany had built and implemented the Me-262 jets in battle (first combat 1944). Quickly thereafter Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, was successfully launched in 1957.  This was soon followed by Luna 1 in 1959, which was the first spacecraft to fly by the Moon. Next on the spaceflight agenda was Mars.

earth mars
In 1964, the spacecraft Mariner 4 was the first to fly-by and take a picture of the surface of Mars.  The pictures were black and white and they were not impressive to the untrained eye.  However, they were a major accomplishment for the United States.  Mariner 4 was followed by Mariner 6 and 7, both flybys in 1969.  This coincided with and was clearly overshadowed by the Apollo 11 Moon landing that same year.  Mariner 9 was the first orbiter to successfully arrive at Mars in 1971.  Since the 1970’s, there have been many successes and many failures with spacecraft seeking to explore Mars.

Some of the most notable missions were: Viking 1 and 2 landers (1975-6), the Mars Pathfinder-Sojourner Rover (1997), the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit (2004-2010) and Opportunity (2004-still operational), the Phoenix Lander (2008), and most recently and most impressively the Curiosity Rover (Aug 5, 2012). 

Together the landers and rovers have made many wonderful and exciting discoveries, adding to our understanding of the solar system.  They have sampled the soil, the atmosphere, and the mineral content of Martian rocks.  Some of what they have found include carbon dioxide (CO2) snow, mysterious globules that shrink and grow near the legs of the Phoenix Lander, interesting geological outcroppings, seasonal fluctuations of methane (due to biological or geological activity), unequivocal evidence of past (and possibly current) water on the Martian surface, as well as many other discoveries.  The Curiosity Rover is armed with more scientific instruments than any rover or lander that has visited Mars to date. Mars riverbed

Breaking News:  This week NASA released the news of an amazing discovery by the Curiosity Rover.  Curiosity has discovered a dry riverbed on Mars in Gale Crater.  The team of scientists at NASA chose Gale Crater because of the very strong evidence that water once flowed there.

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