Landing on Mars

These two photographs are separated by thirty nine years, and more than thirty five million miles. The inset is of Neil Armstrong stepping off the Lunar Lander of Apollo 11 back in July 1969. The fuzzy, low-resolution television pictures were beamed all around the world to a spell-bound audience witnessing for the first time man landing on a heavenly body that was not the Earth. It is slightly ironic that in this age of high definition tv, the new history-making image is as fuzzy as the one from decades ago. It shows the Martian probe, Phoenix, descending to the surface with the parachute visible above it. You can just about make out the trace of the parachute chords between the two. For all that it is a low-resolution image, it is nonetheless breathtaking and I find it far more interesting than the surface views taken from the lander itself, almost mesmerising in fact. Remarkably, the image was taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which is on an unrelated mission to Mars. It was launched in 2005 and arrived in March 2006, while the Phoenix Mars Lander we see in the image was launched in August 2007 and arrived yesterday. What will we see in another thirty nine years? Man landing on Mars? The chances are that to beam the first pictures back to us as soon as possible and at extreme range, they will once again be black and white and fuzzy.