Today when knowledge grows at an ever-increasing rate, we are becoming acutely aware of man's influence, as well as his dependence, on his environment. Problems of pollution and depletion of resources arise from man's use and misuse of his environment. Knowledge and understanding, as well as technological capability and social determination, will be required to solve these global difficulties.
In a very real sense, the solar system is man's environment. The Sun furnishes life-giving energy to our planet and literally controls the behavior of Earth's atmosphere. The Moon and planets collectively hold the key to that full understanding of planetary origin and evolution that we will need in order to solve most effectively our challenges on Earth. Through study of both their similarities to and differences from the Earth, the planets will provide greater insight into the mysteries of our own planet.
Mars and Venus, our closest planetary neighbors in space, are similar to Earth in many respects, although different in many others. Mars in particular has long attracted the attention of the astronomer. With its transparent atmosphere, the surface has been sufficiently visible to show features that come and go with the seasons. Speculation that the variable markings may indicate the presence of some form of life has enhanced interest in the red planet. Long before the advent of modern astronomy, surely even before the dawn of history, Mars was known to the peoples of the world. We find the planet identified by ancient civilizations and see it appearing in Western and other mythologies. Except for the Sun and Moon, it has probably longer been a subject of wonder and awe to man than any other celestial object.
Over the past century and a half, Mars came to be known as one of the most Earth-like objects in the solar system, possessing a thin atmosphere and exhibiting white polar caps that seasonally extend and retract, and dark markings that come and go with seasons. With a rotation period comparable to that of the Earth, it appears to have a rudimentary weather system, involving fierce winds and occasional duststorms of very broad extent.
There came a time when telescopes and their associated instrumentation had revealed most of what they could tell about the planets. This factor, together with growing interest in the exciting and fundamental field of stellar and galactic astronomy, led to a period of marked decline in astronomical interest in the planets. This interest was renewed as a result of our increased capability to observe and measure, which came about in two ways: through improved instrumentation for Earth-based observing, and through man's dramatic new ability to send instrumented spacecraft to the planets themselves. The latter is illustrated by the historic encounter with Mars of the spacecraft Mariner IV, which radioed 150 million miles home to Earth its television pictures of a rugged, cratered surface reminiscent of that of the Moon, and which made the first magnetospheric, ionospheric, and atmospheric measurements from the vicinity of the planet. In the light of such new scientific potential, the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences has recommended high priority for planetary exploration, with primary initial emphasis on Mars, seeking evidence of life elsewhere than on Earth, and seeking fundamental knowledge of the origin and evolution of planets in the solar system.
This book on Mars, by Dr. Samuel Glasstone, one of the foremost scientific authors of today, is published by NASA in support of the growing interest in the study of our solar system. The book is a one-volume compaction of information about Mars, gained over many years by many scientists throughout the world, using increasingly powerful and sensitive instruments, gifted insights, and rigorous induction to produce a sizable body of knowledge and theory about the red planet. As extensive as our knowledge and speculation about Mars may be today, it may turn out in the not too distant future to have been only preliminary, as new techniques of Earth and space observation help to pry open the secrets of our solar system, planet by planet.
Homer E. Newell
National Aeronautics and. Space Administration
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