Invasion of Mars

24 December, 2007

Mars Rover (concept art)No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that Mars would soon be watched keenly and closely by intelligences as mortal as man. Since the first flyby of Mars by a robotic probe in 1965 there have been a steady stream of mechanical creatures sent by Mars’ neighbouring planet Earth. The first approach of these far off creatures from Earth was the Mariner 4 spacecraft, which flew by the Mars system at high speed, it’s ever watchful eye snapping photographs and sending them back to Earth. These images, up close and personal, showed the distant scientists that Mars was a cold, cratered, dead world.

Over the next years the Earthlings continued to send robots to Mars. Many of these mechanical explorers failed, breaking due to radiation on their way to Mars, or dying in immense seasonal dust storms that covered the entire planet. But some made it through the dangerous months of travel across the solar system. Landers took pictures and soil samples. Word came back from Mars, information that the Earthlings absorbed and incorporated into their newer, more advanced robots.

Now, in 2007, three watchful eyes are in orbit around Mars, scouring the surface in ever closer detail, mapping the planet below and communicating with the Earthlings foot soldiers on the ground. Spirit and Opportunity are advanced reconnaissance rovers roaming the surface of Mars. Due to the dangers of spaceflight and the environment on Mars they were built was incredible redundancy. A stray cosmic ray can flip a bit within a circuit and cause a malfunction with no repairman within millions of kilometers. Triple redundancy in logic gates on the chips within the rovers, safe store backup instructions and more have allowed these robots to continue operations well over the initial three months planned. Nearly four years after their initial landing they are still sending new information back to Earth.

The invasion of Mars goes well for Earth. Knowledge of the Martian landscape, which contains the largest mountain in the solar system, and a canyon 4000 km long that dwarfs the Grand Canyon of Earth, is getting more refined. NASA has announced plans to build a mission that will take a human to the surface of Mars within twenty years. Then the invasion will truly have begun…

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