Humans look to Mars during Red Planet Day

By Alan Fleck

Intensely concentrated, the young astronaut candidate for the Mars mission worked quickly at the Martian Agility Tests at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

His tasks included tests for an oxygen shortage, gloved assembly, terrain tumble, emergency fix-it, map memory, gravity calculation, and a red maze.

Nine-year old Jacob Penn passed all but the red maze test, which with proper training should not be a problem. Jacob’s good results qualify him to be a candidate for the Mars mission. But the youngster was not sure if he wanted a career in space.

“I am interested in other things right now,” Jacob said. “I would like to be an art teacher.”

Jacob’s mother Alexis Penn was impressed with the Mars activities on display for “Mars: Red Planet Day” at the museum.

”It was not too many years ago that people thought the moon was out of reach, and man got there with far less computer capacity than we have today,” she said.

The celebration of Mars takes place on Nov. 28 every year because on that date in 1964, the Mariner 4 spacecraft was launched with the mission to obtain and transmit close range images of Mars. The mission was accomplished on July 14, 1965, when Mariner 4 passed within 6,118 miles of Mars, sending back the first close-up photos of the Red Planet.

Red Planet Day is celebrated at major space museums in the United States, including the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the Martian Agility Tests, visitors at the Flight museum could enter the SPOC (Space Portal Odyssey Capsule), a portable planetarium which allowed visual travel through the Solar System to Mars and the Curiosity Martian Rover.

Ian Grey, SPOC planetarium narrator, described what visitors were seeing as they left earth and arrived on Mars. Grey answered all questions asked in language his entire audience, ranging from mothers with infants to older adults, could understand.

The museum provided supplies for the events. Youngsters were challenged to hold their breath for 20 seconds, assemble a circuit while wearing astronaut gloves, jump over Martian-sized boulders, and more.

“There were 200 RSVPs for the Red Planet event,” said Cheyenne Suffka, public programs manager in the museum’s Education Department.

Other activities for Red Planet Day included the opportunity via Play-Well TEKnologies to build Martian Rovers out of Lego blocks, as well as visit with the Mars Society of Dallas, to discuss its continued optimism about a manned visit to Mars in the mid 2020s or 2030s.

According to the Mars Society, a manned mission to Mars would require six months to get there, require a 500 day stay to line up the planets for a proper return, and require another six months to come back to Earth.

“A visit to Mars would be more interesting than returning to the moon, as some have suggested, because Mars is more interesting as the only planet that may be suitable for human exploration and settlement. We have been to the moon,” Kurt Chankay of the Mars Society said.