Life on Mars and Space Superstitions

We’ve long wondered about Mars and the question of whether the red planet can support life - so much so that the shorthand for alien life forms is ‘Martian’ (as in, citizen of Mars).

This month’s historic landing of the Mars rover Curiosity - and the incredible photos beaming back to earth - means that Mars is at the forefront of our minds more than ever.

‘In the next six months Curiosity will tell us more about Mars than we have learnt in the last 40 years,’ writes Fairfax online. (Not convinced? Perhaps this incredible 360° panorama will sway you.)

But while the rover’s mission is to find out whether there are (or ever have been) conditions for life on Mars, Curiosity is not equipped to find life directly. ‘Since we have no idea of what Martian life may be like, searching for it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,’ says Mike Meyer, head of Mars exploration at NASA.

Space superstitions: Peanuts and ghosts

As NASA prepared for Curiosity’s descent onto Mars, the controllers, engineers and scientists in the control room all suddenly began munching on peanuts.

Wired reports that the peanut tradition began in the 1960s, during the Ranger missions - spacecraft designed to fly to the moon and photograph it.

‘The first six Ranger spacecraft failed during launch or while leaving orbit, but on the seventh launch, someone brought peanuts into mission control, and the mission succeeded. It’s been a tradition at JPL launches and landings ever since.’

Wired has published a list of space travel traditions and superstitions held by both the Americans and the Russians, including the American tradition of the commander playing a hand of poker with the tech crew until he loses before a launch, and the Russian tradition of visiting the office of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, before a flight - signing his guestbook and ‘supposedly’ asking his ghost’s permission to fly.

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