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Red Into Blue
« on: November 16, 2008, 01:31:56 PM »

Red Into Blue
15 Nov 2008, 0000 hrs IST

Mars now has its first library. Attached to the deck of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which touched down on the arctic plains of the Red Planet in

May earlier this year, is a DVD which includes a collection of 19th and 20th century science fiction stories, essays, art and music inspired by Mars. It also contains the names of more than a quarter-million 21st century earthlings. Made of special silica glass, the disc should be able to last at least 500 years, so there'll be plenty of time for a generation of future Martians to discover and enjoy the works included in it.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, scientists have to start working on when the library will open to public. Phoenix shut down transmission about 10 days ago due to approaching winter conditions and insufficient sunlight reaching the Lander's solar panels, but not before it had transmitted gigabytes of data generated by an on-board suite of advanced instrumentation. These need to be sifted through and analysed. In the coming months, if not years, specialists would be looking at the planet's geography, weather patterns, soil composition, temperature and pressure parameters, atomic microscope photographs and subsurface electrical and thermal conductivity. Basically, they would be researching the environment for a history of life's possible habitability there, looking for signs of past or even present biological activity.

The good news, however, is that one thing at least is already confirmed: water in the form of ice does indeed exist on Mars. And lots of it too. Enough, in fact, to support not only an initial human outpost of spacefaring pioneers but also a full-fledged colony of settlers some day. Because with water around, food and independent life sustenance is almost assured. Harvested and utilised carefully, it can also be used for terraforming, which is transforming an arid and inhospitable alien landscape, such as that of Mars, into something resembling one found on Earth.

How appropriate, therefore, that immediately prior to shutting down Phoenix tweeted its final message: "Triumph" in binary. Meaning, when centuries later the first people on Mars come across that DVD, called "Visions of Mars", they would be holding in their hands a relic of an antique spacecraft and an ancient message from one planet to another consisting of greetings and good wishes from visionaries of a distant time on a distant world.
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