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Mars — the next "Giant Leap"?

Two vital factors are propelling the U.S. space program to new heights:
1) the need for a new national goal,
2) the determined search for extra-terrestrial life.


MAN has started his drive into the universe," proclaimed a leading American space official on the eve of the Apollo 11 launch. It was, he confidently predicted, "the beginning of a movement that will never stop!"

President Nixon, welcoming home the three Apollo astronauts, told them: "Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world."

Space is suddenly big news!

The moon, say space scientists, is merely the first rung on the ladder of space.


Herald of a New Age?

Astounding achievements in space technology are capturing public attention around the world. First it was the resounding success of Apollo 11. And, close behind, never-before-seen pictures of the planet Mars from Mariners 6 and 7.

Never in history had so many people watched a "live" event as the launch of America's Apollo 11 mission. The world television audience was estimated at somewhere between one-half and three-quarters of a billion people.

Approximately the same size audience viewed Astronaut Neil Armstrong plant the first human foot on the alien surface of the moon. This was, in Armstrong's own words, "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!"


"Like the Tower of Babel"

The chief administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Thomas O. Paine, told a select Los Angeles gathering that the number of correspondents who came to the United States for the launch was unprecedented in news reporting history. There were 111 accredited correspondents from Japan alone! Said Paine:

"The scene at the Cape and at Houston was like the Tower of Babel. I never saw so many different people waving arms in so many different directions at once."

The last week before Apollo 11, reported Paine, it was impossible to reserve a seat on flights between South Africa and Britain. The reason? Many wealthy South Africans flew there just to watch the moon landing on television. The South African government is being pressured by its public to finally install national television.

These, said Paine, are just a few of the worldwide impacts of man's surge into space.


Mariners Report from Mars

Following closely on the heels of Apollo 11's successful conclusion, two unmanned space probes zeroed in on earth's neighboring planet, Mars.

I, along with our News Bureau staff members Dexter Faulkner and Don Schroeder, was at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory several times during "encounter week" as the stream of data poured across nearly 60,000,000 miles of space from Mariners 6 and 7.

The windmill-shaped U.S. space probes flashed back to JPL's television monitors such pictures of the "mysterious red planet" Mars as man had never before seen.

The spectacularly clear pictures revealed a crater-pocked surface much closer in appearance to the moon than to the earth. Huge craters measure up to 300 miles wide. Many others are 10 or 15 miles in diameter and hundreds only a mile or two wide.

It is obvious that most of the Martian craters are very ancient. According to Dr. Robert Leighton, who was in charge of the television experiments, the cratering rate in the entire solar system was much greater in the past than at present. Few seem to know why.

Many of Mars's craters are shallow, nearly rimless, perhaps testifying to some wind activity having filled the crater bowls with loose surface material over eons of time.

The similarity of the surface of Mars and the moon prompted one scientist to comment: "If indeed there were Martians traveling and trying to decide where to go, they would go to the moon instead of earth because it would be more hospitable to them."


No Nitrogen There

On board each marvelously engineered Mariner were five intricate sensing devices.

What kind of world did these instruments detect? Essentially a dead, inhospitable planet lacking the essential ingredients necessary to support life.

The biggest discovery of all in the Mariner 6 and 7 experiments was the fact that no nitrogen was discovered in the upper Martian atmosphere.

Nitrogen is present in every life form on earth. Life as we know it cannot exist without it. Earth's atmosphere is composed of about 78 percent nitrogen.

But there is no evidence of this key element on Mars.

The planet's atmosphere was found to be extremely thin — only one one-hundredth that of earth. This means that the atmospheric pressure on the Martian surface is comparable to an altitude of 100,000 to 150,000 feet on earth.

Because of the greatly attenuated Martian atmosphere, extremely strong pulses of ultraviolet light reach the surface, virtually unfiltered. Admitted one scientist, Martian life would have to be "extremely durable" to withstand the unimpeded bombardment of ultraviolet rays.

Water, too — another key element to terrestrial life — appears lacking, except for the possibility of trace amounts of water ice. Mariner 7's close-up views of the white polar cap indicated the region may be overlaid with drifts of frozen carbon dioxide — "dry ice" — rather than frozen water.

Temperature readings revealed wide variations between day and night. They ranged from a high of 75° F during the day to nearly 100° F below zero at night along the equatorial regions.

Not a very pleasant place to live — or even visit. Mars, admitted Caltech's Dr. Norman Horowitz, resembles a hostile desert. If any life exists, some scientists think it could only be microbes — and microbes of a totally different kind from those found on earth.

But proof of life on Mars? There is none.