The first time I was conscious of the red planet was when I was four years old and watched the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians which featured a very young Pia Zadora as a Martian child. I’m sure I had already been exposed to plenty of other extraterrestrial worlds from having spent countless hours scanning the comics section of the newspaper, drawn to the futuristic likes of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, but the inclusion of Santa, of whom I was a firm believer, captivated my young imagination. The concept of Martian civilization was as real to me as the elves at the North Pole.
Needles to say, I was fortunate to have grown up during the Space Race and could not have been more impressionable as American astronauts set their sites on the Moon. Like most boys in that era I surrounded myself with space paraphanalia. My brothers and I had all kinds of space related toys, my favorite of which were the Major Matt Mason action figures and his giant friend from the Moon, Captain Laser.
Though I was in the midst of recovering from open heart surgery that summer of 1969, I was as captivated as any person on the planet when when Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the Moon. Hanging above my bed as I watched the scratchy videos on a black-and-white television were several paper models that I had built of the Lunar Module (LEM) from a Gulf station promotional giveaway.
My fascination for extraterrestrial life was heightened by a stories of alien abductions and the books by Eric von Daniken, most notably Chariots of the Gods?. Of course there was no shortage of science fiction from TV, film, books, and comics to fuel my interest. I spent many a day building and launching model rockets. Earth is great but my head was in the stars. Comic books ultimately gave me my greatest escape to other worlds where adventures in another galaxy were just a panel away.
As a nation we seem to have lost interest in space exploration. There have been no more “manned” trips to the moon since 1972 and all human space activity has taken place on the International Space Station which orbits the Earth about 16 times a day at a low altitude of just over 200 miles above the planet. Launches of the space shuttle had been the most spectacular events that have included actual astronauts since the Moon walks. Perhaps our interest in space travel has been marred by the two space shuttle tragedies as we watched the crews of Challenger and Columbia lose their lives in dramatic catastrophes.
Robots are the new pioneers as they venture to other planets guided by Earth bound technicians. Orbiting satellites, probes, landers, rovers and telescopes have given us the opportunity to witness the surface of other planets, experiment on the content of their atmosphere and soil, and view the outer reaches of space, effectively looking back in time to the beginnings of the Universe.
This week, the rover Curiosity landed on Mars to much jubilation. Maybe the country, which was enjoying a burst of nationalistic pride garnered from the successes of Team U.S.A.’s olympic athletes competing in London, is feeling adventurous again. I got a special nostalgic thrill by looking at the tracks left in the soil by the rover, reminding me of those first footprints on the Moon over forty years ago.
The crystal clear 360° photos from Curiosity of the Martian landscape are intoxicatingly inviting and conjure images of Alan Moore’s Dr. Manhattan walking naked across the terrain in the most successful graphic novel, Watchmen.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Curiosity sent pictures back of the blue doctor’s giant glass palace? I guess that would be a huge stretch of the imagination but hey, I still believe in Santa Claus. Maybe we’ll see photos of those Martians that kidnapped him and those two little kids.
Tags: Alan Moore, alien abductions, Apollo 11, astronaut, astronauts, Buck Rogers, Buzz Aldrin, Captain Laser, Challenger, Chariots of the Gods, Columbia, comic books, Curiosity, Dr. Manhattan, Earth, Eric von Daniken, Flash Gordon, International Space Station, Lunar Module, Major Matt Mason, Mars, Moon, Neil Armstrong, North Pole, Pia Zadora, Robots, Santa, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, science fiction, space exploration, Space Race, space shuttle, Team USA, Universe, WATCHMEN