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LIBRARY IS SET TO BLAST OFF TO MARS

NASA's newest Mars lander is to carry the words and art of visionaries such as Voltaire and Carl Sagan to the red planet.

The "Visions of Mars" mini-disk secured to the lander will be the first library on Mars - a gift from past and present dreamers to possible future settlers.

"I'm glad you're there and I wish I was with you," Sagan said in a recording made for the mission before his 1996 death. An excerpt from his book Cosmos is also on board.

The Planetary Society's silica-glass DVD, just 3 inches in diameter, contains 84 written texts, as well as 63 Mars-related works of art and three radio broadcasts, including the 1938 recreation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds and the 1940 discussion between Wells and Orson Welles, who directed the panic-inducing drama.

The disk is designed to survive at least 500 years on the red planet's surface.

The Phoenix Mars Lander was scheduled to blast off at 5:26 a.m. today aboard an unmanned rocket. Its journey to Mars will take nearly 10 months and cover 422-million miles.

The three-legged Phoenix is equipped with a digger that will penetrate the red soil and underlying ice, and tiny ovens that will bake dirt and ice samples.

If traces of organic compounds are found, it could indicate an environment conducive to supporting life.

That's what enthusiasts have envisioned for decades. Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson foresees permanent Martian colonies with hundreds and even thousands of people, similar to the Antarctic stations.

"I believe in it. I think it's coming," Robinson said.

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