Science Fiction, Sagan Message, Headed to Mars

Saturday morning, NASA sent its latest probe to Mars, a craft named Phoenix. On board is a DVD with a collection of great works of science-fiction inspired by the Red Planet, and a recorded message from the late astronomer Carl Sagan to future visitors to Mars.

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The Phoenix Mars Lander lifted off from Cape Canaveral this morning in the pre-dawn darkness. If all goes as planned, the probe will touchdown sometime next spring and spend a few months sampling ice near the planet's north pole.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: We've been thinking about what NASA's really up to on Mars. And what we're thinking is they must have run low on ice after all those astronaut cocktail, or maybe they're looking for Mars bars, or just maybe, they want to find out whether Santa Claus maintains an outpost at the Martian north pole. But, of course, if you've ever seen the 1964 movie "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," you'll know there's no Christmas cheer on the Red Planet.

(Soundbite of movie "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians")

Unidentified Man #1: What is a Christmas? It is an occasion from great joy and peace of the planet Earth.

Unidentified Man #2: Ahh, what nonsense.

LYDEN: Sadly, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is not one of the scores of Mars-themed works included on a DVD being carried aboard the Phoenix Lander. The Planetary Society, a private group, which promotes public interest and space exploration, put the DVD together. It's a compendium of human notions of Mars.

There's art, literature, and even a recording of Orson Welles' famous 1938 "War of the Worlds" broadcast. The disc also includes personal greetings from space visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke, Phoenix Mission Director Peter Smith, and Planetary Society co-founder, the late Carl Sagan. He offered these words to future human visitors to Mars.

Mr. CARL SAGAN (Co-Founder, Planetary Society): I don't know why you're on Mars. Maybe we're on Mars because we recognized that if there are human communities in many worlds, the chances of us being rendered extinct by some catastrophe on one world is much worse. Or maybe we're on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there that the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Or maybe we're on Mars because we have to be because there is a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process. We come, after all, from hunter-gatherers. And for 99.99 percent 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.

LYDEN: Bon Voyage, Phoenix. Fly well.

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