Arthur C. Clarke Stands By His Belief in Life on Mars
By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 12:25 pm ET
07 June 2001

WASHINGTON -- Noted space visionary and writer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, believes that new images of Mars clearly show the red planet dotted with patches of vegetation, including trees. Such a find may help spark a far grander space program more aligned with the adventure and exploration portrayed in the epic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey - the collaborative work of both Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick.

Clarke spoke last night, June 6, via phone from his home in Sri Lanka as key speaker in the Wernher von Braun Memorial Lecture series held here at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
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Poring over images on his home computer taken by the now-orbiting Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), Clarke said that there are signs of vegetation evident in the photos.

"I'm quite serious when I say have a really good look at these new Mars images," Clarke said. "Something is actually moving and changing with the seasons that suggests, at least, vegetation," he said.

Clarke repeated several times that he was serious about his observations, pointing out that he sees something akin to Banyan trees in some MGS photos.

Science met its match

Joining Clarke in last night's lecture was a panel of space authorities, Apollo 17 moonwalker, Eugene Cernan, science fiction writer, Ben Bova, and space historian Fred Ordway.

Cernan said that he has concluded there's little difference between science fiction and science fact. He said that the only difference is time, a dimension we know so little about.

"Standing on the surface of the Moon in sunlight, you are surrounded by the blackest black that you can allow your mind to conceive. Not darkness, but blackness," Cernan said. That view affords a person a face-to-face look at the endlessness of time and the endlessness of space, with Earth moving through that blackness. What you see is infinity, he said.

"I have looked and focused as far as I can focus on infinity. I can tell you that it literally does exist," Cernan said.

Awestruck by the vista from his trek to the Moon, now over a quarter of a century ago, Cernan said that he came to a point "where science did not have an explanation" for what he saw. "It was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. Science met its match," he said.

The other things

Cernan decried the fact that the country's space exploration agenda today rings hollow compared to the past.

"What's it going to take to get people to dream again, to realize they can once again do the impossible?" Cernan asked. "John F. Kennedy said that we plan to go the Moon 'and do those other things'…we haven't done the other things yet," he said.

Ben Bova said that NASA's program is driven by politics. If there's no political push and no political will, then "I think it's going to have to come from the private sector," he said.

How to reactivate America's space program to do bold things "is the $64 trillion question," Clarke responded by phone. Space tourism may act as a trigger, he said, as could some major discovery, such as new findings on Mars.

Ordway said that 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the vision it portrays, came at a time "when space was on everybody's agenda," he said.

Old and new worlds

"I think there's a real possibility there may be a propulsion breakthrough," Clarke said. "The rocket is going to play the same role in space as the balloon did in aviation. It will be superseded by something much better," he said.

Cernan said he remains optimistic about the future of space exploration.

In the future, people will not only be living on Mars, "they are going to be coming back to see where their forefathers grew up," Cernan said. "I think someday they will be talking about the Old World and the New World, and we're going to co-exist together. That's science fiction today, but give us time," he said.

Clarke said however, that such a scenario has one problem.

"I'm afraid the great, great grandchildren won't be very happy back here on Earth at three times normal gravity," Clarke said.

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