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Martianscaping? — by Mark Barry

As many were, I am totally amazed by the successful landing of the spacecraft Spirit on Mars recently. I have difficulty with HTML, RSS, and sometimes even just scrolling down a page, let alone sending a video buggy to the moon, complete with side impact airbags! Sitting at home that night, flipping back and forth from Saturday Night Live and the NASA cable station, the NASA feed won hands down for comedic pleasure. As the first signals were relayed back to earth, the control center exploded with joy. If you can imagine the stroke of midnight at a New Year's Eve party for nerds, that was the scene. A Gary Larson cartoon for sure. (I mention that with great respect: please don't hack my Web site. Thank goodness for nerds.)

As the beautiful wide angle images start to stream in, my initial reactions are, "What a barren place" and "How do I relate it to my own experiences?" A desert? a beach scene with out the ocean? Brazilians would know how to make this place more fun looking: Rio De Janeiro, Ipanema, with scanty space suits.

Most of the "space art" I am used to is fantastic in nature, visionary, or subtitled as the artist's conception. Many are truly beautiful and dazzling, in the tradition of a Ray Bradbury novel, but merely the beginning. When artists go to Mars or beyond, and we will (not me!), that’s when the true emotional, humanized response to other worlds will be translated. "One small step for man" was rigid military-speak: poets in space are desperately needed. If NASA wants 20 trizillion dollars for planetary exploration, beyond the militarization of space only, the mission must be enhanced by an artist’s perspective, using poets, writers, and visual artists to enlighten and excite the public's imagination.

It’s quite a challenge. The real success of the Mars lander is a renewal of our collective dream of other worlds, galaxies, a brief moment of distraction from the mess we have gotten ourselves into on Earth. What would it be like to paint on the Martian surface? What are the atmospheric effects on color? What would my message be? I’m still thinking of that Martian beach scene: maybe I will go along.

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