The similarities between Earth and Mars have led to speculations that living creatures may exist on the latter planet. Toward the end of the 19th century some writers suggested that the strange linear features on the Martian surface, the so-called canals, were an indica tion of an advanced civilization. Most scholars could not accept this view, bujt "men from Mars" became common in science fiction.
In view of the almost complete lack of oxygen and the absence of any significant quantity of liquid water, it is highly improbable that there are now any advanced life forms on Mars. Nevertheless, as will be seen in the course of this book, it is not at all impossible that living organisms, specially adapted to the conditions on the planet, can exist or could have existed in the past. The discovery of life, past or present, on Mars would constitute one of the most exciting scientific events of all time. For this reason alone, the exploration of Mars, by instruments and by man, can be well justified. It would be particularly appropriate if a study of Mars, the planet which dethroned Earth from its position as the center of the universe, should also prove that Earth is not the only abode of life in the solar system.
The first attempts to discover life on Mars will be made by landing instruments designed to detect phenomena characteristic of life on Earth. The results may be negative because living organisms may have developed quite differently in the Martian environment. Thus the question of whether or not life exists on Mars may not be answered until man sets foot on this planet and brings back samples of the soil for detailed study on Earth. Even if these studies are not conclusive, they may nevertheless reveal the presence of certain chemicals believed to be the precursors of life. The identification of such prebiological materials on Mars would be a discovery of outstanding significance.
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