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A season of programmes from Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra exploring the Red Planet of our dreams and, maybe, our futures...

Mars BBC

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A season of programmes from Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra exploring the Red Planet of our dreams and, maybe, our futures...

    A Trip Around Mars with Kevin Fong

    A Trip Around Mars with Kevin Fong

    The planet Mars boasts the most dramatic landscapes in our solar system. In a programme first broadcast in March, 2013, Kevin Fong embarks on a grand tour around the planet with scientists, artists and writers who know its special places intimately - through their probes, roving robots and imaginations.

    As we roam Mars' beauty spots, Kevin considers why the Red Planet grips so many. Beyond its alien topographic grandeur, Mars inspires the bigger questions: are we alone in the cosmos, and what is the longer term destiny of humanity? Was there more than one life genesis? Will humans ever live on more than one planet?

    The itinerary includes the solar system's greatest volcano - Olympus Mons. It is an ancient pile of lavas more than twice the height of Everest, with a summit crater that could contain Luxembourg.

    The weight of Mars' gargantuan volcanic outpourings helped to create the planet's extreme version of our Grand Canyon. Vallis Marineris is an almighty gash in the crust 4,000 kilometres long and seven kilometres deep. That is more than three times the depth of Earth's Grand Canyon. In some place the cliffs are sheer from top to bottom.

    A little to the east lies an extraordinary region called Iani Chaos, a vast realm of closely spaced and towering rock stacks and mesas, hundreds to thousands of metres high. One researcher describes it as Tolkienesque. This unearthly shattered terrain was created billions of years ago when immense volumes of water burst out from beneath the surface and carved another giant canyon, known as Ares Valles, in a matter of months. Imagine a hundred Amazon rivers cutting loose at once, suggests Professor Steve Squyres.

    The catastrophically sculpted landscapes are part of the plentiful evidence that in its early days, Mars was, at times, awash with water and, in theory, provided environments in which life could evolve and survive. That is what the latest robot rover on Mars - Curiosity - is exploring at the dramatic Gale Crater with its central peak, Mount Sharp.

    Expert Mars guides in the programme include scientists on the current Curiosity mission, and on the preceding rover explorations by Spirit and Opportunity. Kevin talks to hard sci-fi novelist Kim Stanley Robinson whose rich invocations of Martian landscapes form the narrative bedrock of his Mars Trilogy.

    He also meets Bill Hartmann, a planetary scientist since earliest generation of Mars probes in the 1960s and 1970s. Bill has a parallel career as an artist who paints landscapes of the Red Planet.

    Planetary scientist Pascal Lee of the Mars Institute begins Kevin's tour with a painting he created - an imagined view of Mars from the surface of its tiny moon, Phobos.

    Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

    • 28 min
    Following the Martian Invasion: Episode 5

    Following the Martian Invasion: Episode 5

    Francis Spufford moves through an eerily silent London from Exhibition Road, where Wells had eagerly attended the lectures of biologist Thomas Huxley, onto the outskirts of Primrose Hill: the last staging post of the Martians who meet their microbial end overlooking the ruined city as Victorian's count their biological blessings.

    Joining Francis are the science fiction writers Ian McDonald and Stephen Baxter, author of the new sequel to War of the Worlds.

    Why does Wells's tale still resonate 120 years after its publication?

    • 14 min
    Cells and Celluloid: Aliens on Film

    Cells and Celluloid: Aliens on Film

    With Francien Stock and Adam Rutherford.

    • 57 min
    Following the Martian Invasion: Episode 4

    Following the Martian Invasion: Episode 4

    Red weed floats down the Thames by Kew Bridge. The Martians are busy aero-forming Earth to make it more like their dying Martian home. The South East lies in ruins and London is abandoned.

    Meanwhile in a house in Mortlake, Francis Spufford is joined by Professor Sally Shuttleworth (St Annes, Oxford) and space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock to consider Martian evolution and appearance in a terrifying close encounter.

    • 14 min
    Following the Martian Invasion: Episode 3

    Following the Martian Invasion: Episode 3

    The inexorable progress of the Martian War machines meets an attempt at organized military response at Shepperton. It is desperate and doomed yet not without limited success.

    Joining Francis along the banks of the Thames to consider a desperate, workable strategy against alien invasion is General Sir Rupert Smith, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander. Meanwhile in London and along the refugee routes northwards to Chipping Barnet, Professor Darryl Jones (Trinity College), editor of the forthcoming O.U.P. edition of War of the Worlds, considers how things fall apart and what kind of world HG Wells wanted to sweep away.

    Producer: Mark Burman.

    • 14 min
    We Are The Martians: Start Up Planet

    We Are The Martians: Start Up Planet

    For Radio 4's Mars series, Kevin Fong asks: what future do we have on Mars when we finally get there? He talks to scientists and writers about their visions of a human presence and purpose on the Red Planet. This is the third part on this series on our relationship with Mars.

    The American space agency NASA aims to get the first human crew to Mars sometime in the 2040's. It is likely to be an international mission and carry a crew of six people. Elon Musk, the founder of private rocket company SpaceX, has unveiled a scheme to get a spacecraft of one hundred colonists to the Red Planet before 2030.

    Do we go to Mars for the big science questions and exploration? Or is Project Mars about becoming a multi-planetary species, extending the American western frontier by a hundred million miles? Do we need to prepare Mars as a refuge should civilisation face extinction here on the home planet.

    Even the first boot print mission will be the mother of all camping trips, and full of hazard. Mars' tenuous atmosphere contains no oxygen, the average temperature is -60 degrees Celsius, the surface is bathed in cosmic and solar radiation and toxic dust lies all over the planet. So some Mars enthusiasts predict that our presence there will never amount to more than something like extraterrestrial Antarctic style bases, where visiting scientific explorers and back-up technicians live and work for a few years at a time before returning to Earth. But for others, the vision is much grander and more ambitious. Colonies will become city sized and economically productive, trading technological innovations with the home planet. Generations of people will live and die in societies free from oppressive authority on Earth.

    Kevin Fong hears from would-be Martian explorers such as Elon Musk and Robert Zubrin. Robert Zubrin is president of the Mars Society and is credited with coming up with the basic technical strategy for mounting a return trip to Mars which both NASA and Space X have adopted. If we do this in our generation, says Zubrin, within two centuries there will be self-sustaining communities on Mars with their own dialects, cultures of technological and artistic invention, and their own history of 'heroic deeds'. This is romanticism to others such as Oliver Morton, author of 'Mapping Mars', and that Mars is no place for civilians. let alone children. With gravity little more than one third of Earth's, a successful human pregnancy may in fact be impossible.

    That's one of the many unknowns about the future of humans on Mars revealed, as Kevin talks to the scientific Mars visionaries such as Chris McKay of NASA Ames Research Center and Pascal Lee of the Mars Institute, and to science fiction authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson, Emma Newman and Stephen Baxter who've imagined people on the Red Planet.

    • 42 min

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