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  • Mars, the Red Planet, made from rock, iron, fable and myth.

  • Since the ancients named it for the God of War,

  • it has had a unique hold over the human imagination.

  • Even before humans set foot on the moon,

  • it was seen as the next step but why?

  • There are similarities between Mars and Earth.

  • It has a 24-hour day and four seasons.

  • Though its air is too thin to breathe,

  • and its surface too cold for unsheltered life,

  • it is far more astronaut-friendly than any of the other planets.

  • It has huge canyons and vast volcanoes.

  • It's riverbeds, deltas, and dried lakes speak of a past more watery than its arid present.

  • Yet, although it is scarce and briny,

  • there are still some liquid water on Mars today, and water is key to life.

  • The possibility that Mars once had life

  • or might just possibly still have it today

  • is one of the reasons more space probes have been sent there than to any other planet.

  • NASA's InSight probe,

  • which landed in November is the latest,

  • and Europe's ExoMars rover will arrive next year.

  • NASA talks of sending humans to Mars on a new spacecraft within the next two decades.

  • Elon Musk's space technology company SpaceX has plans as early as 2024.

  • Such missions with crews would be among the biggest technical challenges humans have ever undertaken.

  • The journey can only be made when the planets are properly aligned.

  • That only occurs roughly every 26 months,

  • but even then, it takes around nine months

  • to travel from one planet to the other.

  • The challenge of a life-support system that can operate for years without resupply is daunting.

  • The cost will be high and the hurdles immense.

  • But the challenge is so exciting,

  • it seems certain that some will try it,

  • and quite likely that some will die trying.

  • Coming up next Thursday, the hunt for oceans in space.

Mars, the Red Planet, made from rock, iron, fable and myth.

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