This week our television screens and in-boxes have been flooded with brand new, rust-tinged pictures of the vast and desolate landscape of Mars. NASA's rover Opportunity joined its colleague Spirit on the surface of the red planet to look for signs of liquid water and perhaps even life. The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are in the game, although the ESA's Beagle2 touched down on Christmas Day and hasn't been heard from since, and Japan's Nozomi was recently abandoned after a five-year struggle to get the craft back on track.
Last fall, China became the third nation behind Russia and the U.S. to launch a man in space. In light of worldwide skepticism over the war on terror, American officials are trying to reinvent a Cold War-style space race designed to impress evil-doers with their ability to conquer new frontiers.
A few weeks ago, George W. announced a substantial increase to NASA's already hefty $17-billion-a-year budget and made a Kennedy-style oath to put a man back on the moon by 2020.
Accompanying the resurrected interest in space technology are projects based on Reagan's ill-fated Star Wars program designed to militarize space.
The Web has a wealth of solid information but also a glut of loony conspiracies and uninformed criticism. As space exploration works its way back into public consciousness, access to reliable science on the Web can keep the process of exploring Mars firmly in the hands of the people who foot the bill.
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov Catch up with the Mars rovers that are currently scurrying across Mars analyzing soil and rocks and taking pictures.
Do you buy it? Many people believe that the landing on Mars has been faked, along with the more famous moon landing in 1969. Also check out Capricorn One (1978) for a great campy movie that portrays a faked Mars landing that goes awry.
The pro-American chest-thumping gets tiresome, but this site is so exquisitely designed you could happily get lost for a week. The Mars Flash interactive is particularly engaging, but be sure to check out the pictures and videos showing how Spirit and Opportunity landed on the surface of Mars.
A great site debunking conspiracy theories, including a hilarious review of the Hollywood flop Mission To Mars.
Apparently, Martians have harnessed quantum physics and we haven't found them yet because of our antiquated scientific methods.
NASA isn't the only space travel option. The X-Prize is a $1-million purse offered to any team that can privately build a spacecraft able to travel into space twice in two weeks. (One of the Canadian entries can be found at www.davinciproject.com.)
An excellent opinion piece on why Mars isn't even ours to colonize, raising some of the ethical implications of interplanetary travel.
The ESA's lander was all set to play a nine-note riff composed by Blur as it phoned home to mission control. It also had a spot painting used for calibrating it's instruments based on the paintings of Damien Hirst.
This Web page urges that "the time has come for humanity to journey to Mars." The team is currently testing mock Mars habitats in the Arctic tundra.
A complete guide to conspiracy theories on all things Martian.