Twenty years after Viking we are finally going back, with no fewer than ten missions planned for the period between 1996 and 2003. In November 1996, the American Mars Pathfinder (APF) is scheduled for launch. If all goes well, it will land in July 1997 at the Ares--Tiu Valles outflow channels (19.5° N, 32.8° W) and will deploy a small robotic rover called Sojourner to explore the Ares Vallis floodplain---a site, incidentally, very close to that originally planned for the Viking 1 landing in 1976.
Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) an orbiter scheduled for launch at the same time, will arrive in Martian orbit in August 1997 and will begin mapping the planet in January 1998. A Russian mission consisting of an orbiter and two landers will at Mars in October 1997.
It is likely that human explorers will follow eventually---perhaps as soon as the middle of the twenty-first century. If and when they do, they will owe much to the Mars of romance, to Schiaparelli, Lowell, Wells, Burroughs, and the rest. We have only now begun to awaken from our dream of Mars, the fire opal we have so long sought through our telescopes, to see it as it really is. The warm hues of the Martian deserts prove to be as deceptive as the pure polar pink of an Arctic sunset, and belie the really terrible reality. Their apparent warmth is only that of our imaginations, which they have so long fired. Still, with its great volcanoes, canyons, and dry riverbeds, Mars remains a fascinating, even if a lifeless, world. And its exploration has only just begun.
© 1996 The Arizona Board of Regents