The Red Planet

Daffodil Buchert, News Writer

On July 15, 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 spacecraft took the first ever photo of Mars. Flashforward 60 years, to 2025. Several space programs, including NASA and SpaceX, plan to have humans close to or on Mars. The contrast between these milestones shows just how far we have come when it comes to space exploration. For many years, humans have dreamed about reaching out into the depths of space. The moon was our first huge milestone, and now it appears we are reaching a new one. Getting humans on Mars.

It has been a long road to get anywhere near the achievement of humans on Mars. The Space Race during the Cold War spurred a massive amount of space exploration, especially concerning the Moon. Mars was overshadowed by the Moon for awhile, but as the years have gone on, and we become more and more concerned about the welfare of our planet, scientists have been working to get to the nearest, possibly-inhabitable world. It is quite remarkable how far we have come in 60 years. 11 years after the first photo of Mars was taken, on July 20, 1976, NASA’s Viking 1 landed on Mars, and took the first ever photo from the surface of Mars. Another spacecraft landed on Mars a few weeks later, and took more photos, as well as collecting more samples of the atmosphere and soil. In the late 90s, the Mars Global Surveyor flew to Mars and orbited it for 9 years before it lost contact. This mission to Mars was very successful, with many photos and analyses as a result, including the highest-resolution images of the planet so far. Mars Exploration Rover Spirit joined the Mars Global Surveyor in 2004, and during its 6 years of contact with scientists, it found evidence of past water on Mars, which was a very big deal, as it suggested that Mars could be inhabitable. NASA’s Curiosity rover, went to Mars in 2012, and detected organic material on Mars, another good sign that Mars could be habitable. Since then, the human landing on Mars has become the next big space goal, with many companies and programs vying to get to the Red Planet. 

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, has the ambitious goal of being the first to land humans on Mars. The company says “Our … goal is to send our first cargo mission to Mars in 2022. The objectives for the first mission will be to confirm water resources, identify hazards, and put in place initial power, mining, and life support infrastructure. A second mission, with both cargo and crew, is targeted for 2024, with primary objectives of building a propellant depot and preparing for future crew flights. The ships from these initial missions will also serve as the beginnings of the first Mars base, from which we can build a thriving city and eventually a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.” . NASA hopes to get humans on Mars in the 2030s, signaling a new era of space progression close to home. 

For decades, we have fantasized about people on the Red Planet. Books have been written and movies have been made all talking about putting people on mars. The hopes and dreams of us Earth people have looked to our neighbor for a long time. We have come a long way, and even in the next decade, perhaps we can start a new Space Race type era.