Mission: Mars

Conducting the Starship SN15 flight test from Texas in May.
Conducting the Starship SN15 flight test from Texas in May.

As Earth faces serious climatic challenges, the NASA Perseverance Rover peacefully roams the plains and craters of Mars, searching for evidence of ancient microbial life. No human being has ever walked on the red planet but it is by far the most prominent in the collective imagination: a target of intrigue for writers, of discovery for scientists, a focus for national rivalries, as well as for the personal ambitions of billionaire entrepreneurs who say that colonisation of Mars is entirely possible. 
Mars began forming in the human mind some two hundred years ago. In the late 19th century, early low-resolution telescopes appeared to show colour changes on the surface that could have been seasonal foliage, while further optical illusions revealed so-called ‘canals’: long straight lines described by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli
In the 1930s, scientists found that there was either no atmosphere on Mars or it was so thin that oxygen was not present, and there was no visible water. Mars as a setting for human conquest, evolved into the fear of a hostile planet in 1950s novels by Philip K. Dick and D. G. Compton. Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke depicted Mars as a barren place where, if there was a civilization, as Bradbury wrote, they were ghosts or images from our imaginations projected there.
In the mid-1970s, Viking 1 and 2 made their first missions to Mars. They returned images that showed a cold planet with volcanic soil, a thin dry carbon dioxide atmosphere and evidence of ancient riverbeds and flooding. The possibilities of ancient life gave rise to an imagined Mars with a geology that could be controlled and even tamed to human needs.