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Viking Mars had long held a special fascination for humans who pondered the planets of the solar system—partly because of the possibility that life might either presently exist or at some time in the past have existed there.Astronomer Percival Lowell became interested in Mars during the latter part of the nineteenth century, and he built what became the Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona, to study the planet.He argued that Mars had once been a watery planet and that the topographical features known as canals had been built by intelligent beings.The idea of intelligent life on Mars remained in the popular imagination for a long time, and only with the first photographs from Mars by Mariner 4 in 1965 were the hopes of many dashed that life might be present on Mars. News and World Report announced at the time that “Mars is dead.”Later spacecraft, especially Mariners 6 and 7, in 1969, reexcited curiosity and laid the groundwork for an eventual landing on the planet.“Life as we know it with its humanity is more unique than many have thought.”—President Lyndon B.Johnson, “Remarks Upon Viewing New Mariner 4 Pictures from Mars,” July 29, 1965.
The failure to find any evidence of life on Mars, past or present, devastated the optimism of scientists involved in the search for extraterrestrial life.The “face” remains a sore point to the present, with Soffen being asked about it many times over the years.Always, he stated it was not the remnant of some ancient civilization but was a natural feature lit oddly in this one image but not in any others.Collectively, these missions led to the development of two essential reactions.
The first was an abandonment by most scientists that life might exist elsewhere in the Solar System.The two landers continuously monitored weather at the landing sites and found both exciting cyclical variations and an exceptionally harsh climate that prohibited the possibility of life.