Yet somehow Mars never grabbed me - from the outset those 1960s Mariner missions sent back fuzzy black-and-white images of something that looked no different to the moon. The landing of Viking I on Mars in June 1976 somehow passed me by (although those first colour images of the surface of the Red Planet, like the one below, do strike a chord when I look at them again).
Below: frost on thesurface of Mars - photo from the Viking 2 lander. Another world, no less than 54 million kilometres away, ice and blue sky. Photographs taken over 34 years ago! After Viking 1 and 2, it would be another 20 years until man (the Americans, for the USSR and its successor states failed to do this) would get some intelligent machinery back onto the surface of Mars.
Below: in 1996, the Pathfinder lander launched a small remote control vehicle, Sojourner, to roam around taking measurements of things. Sojourner, 65cm long, moved around for some two years, covering about 100m during that time. Below: Pathfinder takes a photo of Sojourner, investing a rock.
The next significant missions to Mars were the twin solar-powered Mars Exploration Rovers MER-A (Spirit) and MER-B (Opportunity), both of which landed in January 2004. Spirit conked out in 2010, but Opportunity is still going strong, sending amazingly beautiful photos back to earth.
Above: a b&w image looking back as Opportunity crawls out of a crater. The lovely colour panoramic photos taken by Opportunity are here. Below: a Martian sunset, taken by Spirit.
Next up - in 2008 - was a stationery lander, Phoenix, which descended on Mars's northern polar region and relayed findings to Earth for over five months. It was looking for traces of water; sadly it did not last out the Martian winter.
Curiosity, which landed yesterday, is nuclear-powered, moves around at 4cm/second (eight times faster than Spirit and Opportunity), will tell us - and show us - more of Mars.
There are interesting things up there. The Caves of Mars, for example, or Martian geysers. Neither are on the agenda for this particular mission, but I must say I'm hooked. Below: photo taken by Curiosity on the day it landed, with Mount Sharp in the background. I'm looking forward to high-resolution colour photos in coming days.
I was born on the very day space travel began (4 October 1957, the launch of Sputnik 1). The first 12 years saw advances that were visibly rapid. The pace of extra-terrestrial exploration has slowed down since, but I would hope that within my life time we shall see men on Mars. What then? After early manned missions (maybe one-way missions), terraforming - making Mars suitable for regular human life. A fascinating thought.
The moon had my full attention as an 11 year-old. Mars is creeping up on me, it's significance - mythic as well as scientific. Seven years ago on holiday I had a dream about a discovery of anomalous artefacts on Mars that I turned into a short story; that dream is universal.
This evening Moni and I watched Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. And there it all is - that myth. Are we really not alone? A scary thought - but no less scary than the realisation that we are indeed the only sentient beings in this vast universe of ours.
[All photos NASA. Who else?]
This time last year:
Rhetorical question: why the fuss?
This time two years ago:
Varsovians! Ditch the car - buy a quarterly karta miejska
This time three years ago:
The limited interests of mankind's geniuses
This time four years ago:
Into the fading light
This time five years ago:
Ar y Ffordd i Pwyl Rhydd