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The Color Of Mars


This is the first color view of the Martian surface to be sent back by the Spirit lander. I was watching the live NASA TV stream Saturday night during the landing operation and was almost as thrilled as the mission team at JPL when they received confirmation that the lander was okay.

It's thrilling to look at the first panoramas that they released on Sunday morning, to see the landscape, the hills in the distance, the textures of the ground, and to understand the site as a place where a person could stand and scan the horizon with their own eyes. It takes an effort of will to remind myself that the place in the pictures is over a hundred million miles away.

Reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books filled my head with ideas to stimulate comprehension. The horizon is half as far as the one I know. Close enough, Robinson says, that you'd notice the difference if you were there. You could see how close it was (three miles). The air is 99% thinner than ours, so everything is incredibly crisp and clear (as long as the wind isn't blowing). It's also extremely cold, but perhaps not so cold or so airless as to require what we think of as a spacesuit. A heated pressure suit might suffice, and at 40% of its terrestrial weight the suit wouldn't feel very strange. A person might walk over the horizon in under an hour in such as suit, and the view would change almost constantly as she walked.

Might someone my age be the first to stand on Mars, to touch the surface, to walk over the horizon? Might my child travel there?

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