Broadcast: January 28, 2004
This is Faith Lapidus.
And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Two new American exploration vehicles are now on the surface of the planet Mars. Today we begin a two-part program about Mars and efforts to explore it. We will tell about the history of human interest in the Red Planet. And we will tell about the two new rovers that are exploring and taking pictures of Mars.
The United States successfully landed the first of two exploration vehicles on Mars on January third. The device is named “Spirit.” It landed safely on target in an area of Mars called the Gusev Crater.
Exactly three weeks later, a similar exploration rover named “Opportunity” landed almost half-way around the planet in an area called Meridiani Planum.
American space agency scientists say both devices have sent back exciting information. They also say Spirit has experienced some communications problems. The scientists say they believe they can repair most of these problems. NASA officials say the Opportunity rover made a near perfect landing and is communicating normally.
Before the rovers landed on Mars, NASA announced that anyone who could link with the Internet communications system could see new photographs taken by the rovers. NASA said the photographs would show more detail and be clearer than any photographs ever taken of Mars.
NASA began placing the first black and white photographs on its Internet Web site the same day they were sent by Spirit. During four days, more than ten-million computer users had linked with NASA’s Web site to see the photographs. The Web site had more than one-thousand-million hits.
People from around the world copied more than one-hundred-fifty-million pages of photographs and information sent from the new device on the Martian surface. Internet users also linked with NASA’s Internet television broadcasts. More than two-hundred-fifty-thousand people watched some of the television broadcasts of activities in NASA’s explorer control area.
More than forty-eight-thousand people watched NASA’s broadcast of the landing of Spirit, the first of the two exploration rovers.
Millions more watched the successful landing of Opportunity. And they copied millions of pages of photographs and information about Meridiani Planum.
Charles Elachi is the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He said: “The wonders of space are now as close as your computer.” He added: “Who knows how many children will see these photographs and decide to study science or engineering because of the trip to Mars they took with the aid of our computer link?”
If your computer can link with the Internet communications system, you can see these photographs and many more. Just ask your computer to search for the words MARS ROVER. M-A-R-S R-O-V-E-R.
Mars -- the Red Planet of the night sky. Mars -- the fourth planet from our Sun and the first beyond Earth’s orbit. Mars has always excited the human imagination. It is the only planet that is similar to Earth. It is the only planet whose surface can be seen from Earth.
The ancient Romans named the planet Mars. The ancient Romans’ religion taught that Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus. They are the two brothers who Romans believed first began the city of Rome.
At first the Romans believed Mars was a god of agriculture. The Roman calendar began with the month of March in honor of Mars. March was the month of planting crops and growing. Later, Mars became the red god of war. Roman soldiers prayed to Mars for success in battle.
Later, other people studied the red planet with great interest. In 1877, Italian scientist Giovanni Schiaparelli studied Mars through a telescope. He saw long lines on the surface of the planet that seemed to connect in different areas. He called these lines “canali.” The word “canali” in Italian means both canal and channel.
American astronomer Percival Lowell watched Mars from a huge telescope in the southwestern state of Arizona. He published a book in nineteen-oh-eight that said the canals were dug to carry water to crops. He said intelligent people dug the canals. Other scientists said this was not true. The argument continued for many years.
The idea about possible life on Mars was the subject of several imaginary stories. In 1898, British writer H-G Wells wrote a book about a Martian force that invades Earth. That book is called “War of the Worlds.” It is still popular. It has been broadcast as a radio program and been made into a movie.
In 1912, American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs began writing a series of books about Mars. They are about a man named John Carter who goes to Mars and meets people of many different cultures. Mister Burroughs’ Martian books are still popular, too.
In later years, scientists built better telescopes. Using these large telescopes, scientists could see the surface of Mars. They could see huge sandstorms and mountains. They could see ice on the polar areas of the Red Planet. But they could not see evidence of intelligent life.
In 1964, people began trying to send spacecraft to Mars. The United States launched a spacecraft named Mariner Three. It failed after liftoff. However, the next spacecraft, Mariner Four, was successful. That craft returned the first clear pictures of the Martian surface as it flew past the planet in nineteen-sixty-five.
In nineteen-seventy-five, the United States launched Viking One and Viking Two. On July 20th, 1976, Viking One became the first spacecraft to successfully land on the surface of Mars. The Viking spacecraft sent back more than fifty-thousand photographs of Mars and other valuable scientific information.
In nineteen-ninety-six, the United States launched Mars Pathfinder. It too carried a lander and an exploration vehicle. It arrived on Mars in July of nineteen-ninety-seven. The lander sent back thousands of photographs. Millions of people around the world followed the news of the Pathfinder.
The United States, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency have sent more than twenty exploration vehicles to Mars. However, almost half of them have failed. The number of failures shows the great difficulty in reaching Mars. Those spacecraft that were successful returned much valuable information. For example, scientists finally saw evidence of Martian canals.
Some of these canals are huge. One, called the Ares Vallis, is more than twenty-five kilometers wide and extremely deep. Scientists believe it may have been cut into the surface of the planet by huge and violent floods. They also learned that any water on the planet is now ice or water that has turned to gas.
Scientists also used several different spacecraft to photograph the largest volcano known to exist in the universe. It is also one of the largest known objects in the universe. It is called Olympus Mons. It is about twenty-five kilometers high and more than five-hundred kilometers wide. That would about three times taller and much wider than Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth.
Scientists have also learned that Mars is a place of extremes in climate. The lowest recorded temperature was one-hundred-twenty-four degrees below zero Celsius. Scientists believe the temperature near the polar areas might be as low as two-hundred degrees below zero Celsius.
Every question answered about Mars has always led to more questions. The most important questions have always been: Does water exist on Mars? Is there now, or was there once, any life on Mars? Could humans survive on Mars?
NASA is hoping the exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity will answer these questions. We will report about these efforts next week.
This Special English program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the VOICE OF AMERICA.