In 1996, just before his death, astrophysicist, author and popularizer of science Carl Sagan recorded a message to the future explorers of the planet Mars. This week the Mars rover Curiosity is making history, and while it would be far better to have Sagan covering the goings-on live, his disembodied voice is a worthy proxy.
For those who grew up on Sagan’s NOVA programs—which, sadly, a new generation has missed—it’s a pleasure to hear his voice again, intoning such words as:
Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century, particularly with respect to Mars. The scientists make a finding, it inspires science fiction writers to write about it, then a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited and inspired to become scientists to find out more about Mars, which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science. That sequence has played a major role in our present ability to get to Mars…
Maybe we’re on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there — the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process — we come, after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.
Listen to the message below, which I believe Brain Pickings has soundtracked with Brian Eno’s great ambient track “Ending (An Ascent)” from the “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks” album with Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois.