When the Phoenix landed on Mars Sunday night and began sending back images, I was thrilled. All I could think of was Percival Lowell and his quest to uncover the mystery behind the red planet’s canals. What am I, some kind of space geek or amateur astronomer?
Yes and no. I was one of the billions and billions of people who were glued to their television set every week in 1980 to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Journey.
To say that I was entralled was as grand an understatement as I’ve ever applied to my life. I watched each episode at least twice because PBS repeated them. The Cosmic Calendar, the Hyper-Cube or Tesseract, the ancient library of Alexandria, The Drake Equation, Special and General Relativity, and The War of the Worlds are but a tiny sampling of the wonders from Cosmos. The universe wasn’t Sagan’s classroom, it was his temple and cathedral. Listening to him, watching Cosmos was an awakening to the romance of science, an experience that was religious in the best sense of the term.
Sagan was part of the The Planetary Society’s Visions of Mars project and recorded a message to future Martians, those of our descendants who might colonize the red planet. That message along with many others is now on Mars…
The disk will be part of a relic of an ancient unmanned spacecraft named Phoenix, which landed on the planet in 2008. Possibly preserved as a historic memento, perhaps long abandoned and forgotten, Phoenix will have kept its secret through the long Martian years. But now, at last, its time had come and its message is set to be revealed. The ancient digital format of the small disk may pose a problem, but surely not an insurmountable one for these technologically advanced pioneers. Soon the images will appear on their screens, bearing greetings from visionaries of a distant time, on a distant world.
Here’s the beginning of episode 5 of Cosmos, “Blues for a Red Planet”:
The entire Cosmos series is up on You Tube (what isn’t these days). But this week, the red planet isn’t so blue. It’s front and center and a guy that spotlighted it almost 30 years ago has left it and any future Martians a grand message in a bottle.