Celebrating Red Planet Day

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Red Planet Day commemorates the launch of Spacecraft Mariner 4 on Nov. 28, 1964. This spacecraft sent back the first close-up images of Mars on July 14, 1965, snapping 22 pictures from 9,912 km (6,159.03 miles) during its flyby.

There were a total of 10 Mariner spacecraft, seven of which successfully completed their missions, which were to explore Mars, Venus and Mercury. I remember the Mariner missions, especially the four that went to Mars because I fell in love with the Red Planet in seventh grade. That was the year I read my first “real” science fiction novel, “Red Planet” by Robert A. Heinlein. Before that introduction to hard sci-fi, my favorite books had been all 12 of Hugh Lofting's “Doctor Doolittle” books, L. Frank Baum's 14 “Oz” books and a variety of fairytales.

Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark and other mid-20th century sci-fi giants were inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom (Mars), novels I'm with them; I loved reading about John Carter and his adventures with Dejah Thoris Princess of Helium. It's been kind of a letdown that modern robotic Mars explorers have found neither Martian Bouncers nor Martian princesses and not even “Uncle Martin.” Oh well, someday we will be the “real” Martians.

Of course there is still one way for some people to get to Mars, send their ashes. The idea of burial in space was first proposed in a novella by sci-fi writer Neil R. Jones, “The Jameson Satellite,” published in “Amazing Stories” in 1931. In 1997, Celestis, a subsidiary of Space Services Inc., began sending 1-4 grams samples of cremated remains to space, hitching rides on a variety of rockets that were going there anyway.

The first burial in space included ashes from such notables as “Star Trek” visionary Gene Roddenberry, rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke and LSD proponent Timothy Leary, probably the highest he's ever been. Majel Barrett Roddenberry's ashes will be joining her husband in space soon. Some of astronomer Gene Shoemaker's ashes are buried on the Moon.

So far, the cremains going the farthest belong to Clyde Tombaugh, the American astronomer who discovered the dwarf planet Pluto in 1930. His ashes are aboard New Horizons, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration spacecraft launched in 2006 for a 2015 flyby of Pluto and its moons. His will be the first human remains to escape the solar system.

Boosting my ashes toward Mars sounds better than mixing them with bird seed and letting the birds disburse them or turning them into diamonds or glass ornaments for my kids to wear or dust. Yes, those really are options.

While humans are waiting to become real Martians, however, let's celebrate Red Planet Day by watching documentaries and movies and eating round red things like pizza and red apples or maybe a Mars Bar and a serving of a beet stew called “Angry Red Planet.” Adults could try the Red Planet Curiosity Cocktail. For ideas for kids, visit http://kids.librarypoint.org/all_fun_red_planet_day.

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