Martian Public Relations: Science Fiction Promoting Mars Exploration

Sean McMullen

University of Melbourne

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Abstract: Since the discovery that Mars is another world like Earth in the Seventeenth Century, science fiction has been speculating about what lives there and what it is like to explore. The 1877 opposition saw the Martian 'canals' discovered, and with them came the idea that Mars probably had intelligent inhabitants. Wells' War of the Worlds was published in the same decade as the first serious spacecraft designs, and in the early Twentieth Century Mars was the favourite extra-terrestrial destination in books, stories, and movies. When Orson Welles broadcast his War of the worlds adaptation in 1938, science fiction had people so convinced that Martians existed, that a million people believed they we actually invading.

The 1940s saw great progress in both rocketry and science fiction, and in 1956 the famous The Exploration of Mars by Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun was published, describing the technology required for a manned expedition to Mars using known physics. The Mariner and Viking pictures of Mars in the 60s and 70s ended the traditional dreams of a Mars with canals, dead civilizations, and plant life, but since then a new science fiction of Mars has been popularising the newly discovered, real wonders of the planet, thus rebuilding the image of Mars as a fascinating place to explore in the public consciousness.

PROFILE: Sean McMullen is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, as well as a well-known Australian science fiction author. He has won eleven awards for his writing, and has had eight books, fifty stories and sixty articles published. He co-authored Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction, and was associate Editor of The MUP Encyclopedia of Australian SF and Fantasy, both of which won awards. His studies have included physics, mathematics, history, English literature, computer science, and administration for scientists and engineers.