- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Red Planet passion is upon us.

On a planet dismal with wars, rumors of wars and a sour economy, the Mars landing is a newfound source of jubilation for humans who need a break from it all.

Consider that a recording of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” - his fictional account of the night Martians attacked New Jersey - now sits upon the ruddy Martian surface.

Really.

The vivid retelling of the H.G. Wells classic made the 171-million-mile journey on an indestructible silicon glass DVD that is affixed to the exterior deck of the Phoenix, the NASA spacecraft that took off from Earth in August and landed Sunday. Emblazoned with “Messages from Earth” and protected by a clear case, the disc has the Yankee touch. An American flag is right next to it.

Mr. Wells’ tale is not all the disc contains. There also are greetings from a quarter of a million eager Earthlings, the sci-fi works of Ray Bradbury and Hollywood’s interpretation of Mars, among myriad entries.

“When you send a message in a bottle, it is a sign of optimism, it is a belief that someone will find it. This is a message in a bottle,” said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, a California-based organization founded by Carl Sagan in 1980 to pique the world’s interest in space exploration.

The group intends the DVD to be part of “the first library on Mars,” meant to be found by some future explorer who comes across the spacecraft, perhaps centuries down the road.

“It’s a combination of honoring the past and inspiring the future. Mars is very special. We can’t ever lose sight of that,” Mr. Friedman said.

NASA billed the project as a showcase for “terror and joy.” Emotion was part of it.

“In my dreams, it couldn’t have gone as perfect as it did. I’m in shock. I’m floored, absolutely floored,” project manager Barry Goldstein said yesterday.

A little marketing is tucked in there too. The disc also contains the name of Japanese designer Hanae Mori, whose line of moon-themed perfumes has sold well in recent years.

“Hanae Mori extends distribution to Mars,” the industry publication Base Notes quipped yesterday.

After a brief communications glitch, the Phoenix will get down to serious business today, unfurling its 7-foot robotic arm to dig its frozen surroundings in search of liquid water or minerals that could support life.

Agreeable news media have offered enthusiastic coverage - save a few wags.

“Went to Mars - all we got was this lousy photo,” noted the Sun, a British tabloid.

The scientific community is more eager. Chandra Wickramasinghe, a researcher with Cardiff University’s Center for Astrobiology, has declared that the images sent back to Earth from Phoenix offer “evidence of life on Mars” and even a “contemporary life form,” according to the South Wales Echo, a local paper.

The landing has inspired other cultural moments.

The curious now can access online Martian weather forecasts from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, NASA’s major research partner in the project. In a word? Chilly. Yesterday’s entry offered a low on Mars of minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit, a high of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit and “sunny.”

Those in a celebratory mood can consider a Mars martini, or Marstini, at least according to the W Network, a Canadian-based cable channel. The recipe combines gin, vermouth, orange bitters and a maraschino cherry for that real Mars touch. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for New York City’s Mars Bar - a popular dive in Lower Manhattan - yesterday reported that the Mars landing has not much affected its clientele.

“Not yet, anyway,” she said.

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