How the Search for Life on Mars Got Smarter

By Amy Shira Teitel | May 25, 2018 12:06 pm

Humans have been captivated by Mars almost as long as we’ve been watching the night sky.

The ancient Greeks and Romans watched nightly as a reddish dot moved among the stars, growing dimmer and brighter in a two-year cycle. Each named it for the god of war; the Roman version, “Mars,” stuck. Renaissance astronomers became fascinated with the planet’s apparent backward movement, the so-called retrograde motion that could only be explained with the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of the solar system. Modern scientists have looked to Mars as a potential home for extraterrestrial life, a search that has reshaped how we explore and think about other planets.

What is it about our celestial neighbor? Is it the planet itself that mesmerizes us? Or are we still, after centuries of speculation, hoping that learning more about Mars will tell us something more about ourselves?

The idea of the plurality of worlds has long been a fascination of mine, and something that I got to dig into a lot during my Master’s degree and explored more recently in a piece over on

But speaking of missions to Mars, when I moved to LA four years ago I was immediately excited that living on the west coast meant I’d get to see the InSight launch, the first ever planetary mission to launch from this side of the country! Given that it was my first ever launch, I vlogged the whole thing:

Sources: An Observational History of Mars; NASA InSight HP3NASA InSight Seismometer; NASA InSight Rise; NASA InSight; NASA Mars History; NASA Mars Chronology; NSSDC Mariner; Mariner 4; Mariner 7; Mariner 7 Photojournal; Viking; Viking 1NSSDC Viking; MPL; Odyssey; Huffington Post; MER; MRO; MSL; MSL Results; “Mars Before the Space Age”; William C. Heffernan. “The Singularity of our Inhabited World: William Whewell and A. R. Wallace in Dissent” in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 39. January – March 1978 pp. 81-100. 81.; William Whewell. “Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology” in Crowe, Michael J. ed. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate. University of Notre Dame: Indiana. 2008.; Camille Flammarion. “The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds” trans. Robert L. Jones. In The Extraterrestrial Life Debate. Michael J. Crowe ed. 422.; Brewster, David. More Worlds than One. Chatto and Windus, Picadilly: London. 1876.; Crowe, Michael J. ed. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate. University of Notre Dame: Indiana. 2008.; Schiaparelli, Giovanni. “The Planet Mars” in Essays in Astronomy. Robert Ball ed. D. Appleton and Company: New York. 1900.


Vintage Space

Vintage Space is all about digging into the minutia of the space age. Rather than retelling glossy stories of astronauts, Vintage Space peels back that veneer to look at the real stories -- the innovations that failed, the unrealized technologies, and the human elements that are less publicity-friendly so often remain buried. Gaining a clear picture of spaceflight's past ultimately helps us understand our present position in space and have a more realistic expectation of what the future might bring.

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