Spaceship of the Imagination
From Galileo to HG Wells to Carl Sagan
Is Anybody out There?
“No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own” - HG Wells, The War of the Worlds
Since early civilization humans have been able to view Mars, the blood-red planet, named after the Roman god of war. In the early 1600s, Galileo was the first to view the night sky with a primitive telescope. Over the following centuries as technology improved, more and more people engaged in astronomical observation, debating the presence of water, plants, and intelligent life on our neighboring planet. If we could view Mars, surely life on Mars could be watching us?
Martian Arrival: A Mirror to Humanity
“The nature of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere are two sides of the same question - the search for who we are.” - Carl Sagan
At the turn of the twentieth century, HG Wells imagined beings from Mars arriving on Earth and violently attacking humans in his ground-breaking novel, The War of the Worlds. In this story, as cities are destroyed and people increasingly killed by the Martians, societal order quickly collapses. People begin panicking, turn on one another and become violent. The War of the Worlds serves as a warning to humans not to take our place at the top of the animal hierarchy for granted should extraterrestrial life arrive. Trained as a biologist, HG Wells also speculated scientifically on the nature of life inhabiting the red planet, publishing The Things that Live on Mars a decade after The War of the Worlds.
Amazing Stories, 1927, and Amazing Fact and Science Fiction, 1960, Public domain, via Internet Archive
Science Fiction to Science Possibility
“I find that science fiction has led me to science. I find science more subtle, more intricate and more awesome than much of science fiction. It also has the additional virtue of being true.”- Carl Sagan, The New York Times
Carl Sagan, born in 1934, became fascinated with astronomy as a young child when he learned that stars were suns similar to the sun we see and depend on. He discovered the stories of HG Wells and others in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, imagining life on Mars and beyond. After becoming an astrophysicist who worked as an advisor at NASA, he remarked that he still maintained his 10-year-old sense of wonder for the universe.
At NASA, Sagan assisted with the design and management of numerous spacecraft to explore Mars and its two moons. The missions included extensive photography of much of Mars' surface along with experimentation on Martian soil. Throughout his life, he was a champion for space exploration and the continued search for life in the vastness of our universe.
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere." - Carl Sagan
Back to Earth
Voyager 1 and 2, launched in 1977, are among the numerous NASA spacecraft missions on which Sagan worked. Today they are still traveling further and further into deep space, all the while sending data back to Earth. They have enough fuel to continue doing research until approximately 2025, at which point they will continue to exist in deep space with a capsule of music and greetings from humans, just in case extraterrestrial life ever encounters either of the spacecraft.
Solar System Portrait - Earth as Pale Blue Dot, 1990, and Pale Blue Dot Revisited, 2020, NASA
In February 1990, when Voyager 1 was approximately 4 billion miles away, Sagan insisted that it take a departing photograph of Earth before our planet disappeared from view. The photograph showed Earth as a tiny bright dot in the center of a scattered light ray:
“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena....There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known” - Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
Check out our Imagine cape, perfect for exploring for extraterrestrial life.
Encyclopedia Britannica, The War of the Worlds, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-War-of-the-Worlds-novel-by-Wells
Library of Congress, Image 3 of The Things that Live on Mars, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://www.loc.gov/resource/themesets.wells/?sp=3
Mullen, Leslie. (2001) Dedication of the Carl Sagan Center, NASA, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/people/660/carl-sagan-1934-1996/
NASA: Mars Exploration, All About Mars, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://mars.nasa.gov/allaboutmars/mystique/history/1600/
NASA Science: Mars Exploration Program, Viking 1 & 2, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars-exploration/missions/viking-1-2/
NASA Science: Solar System Exploration, Voyager 1's Pale Blue Dot, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/536/voyager-1s-pale-blue-dot/
NASA Space Place, Voyager 1 and 2: The Interstellar Mission, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/voyager-to-planets/en/
Sagan, Carl. (1978) Growing up With Science Fiction. The New York Times. Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://www.nytimes.com/1978/05/28/archives/growing-up-with.html
The Planetary Society, A Pale Blue Dot, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://www.planetary.org/worlds/pale-blue-dot
Wells, HG. (1898) The War of the Worlds, Harper & Brothers, New York, New York.
Williams, David R. (2005) The Mariner Mars Missions, NASA, Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/mars/mariner.html
Yanes, Javier. (2016) The Martians that Never Arrived: H. G. Wells and 'The War of the Worlds', Accessed on 11/09/21 from: https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/humanities/culture/the-martians-that-never-arrived-h-g-wells-and-the-war-of-the-worlds/