The first time that mars caught the attention of the public may have been in the late 1870s when Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian astrologer, observed some channels or canals on Mars using a telescope (Clark 90). A likely mistranslation of this term as canals could have sparked the imagination of an American businessman, Percival Lowell, who was interested in astronomy to establish an observatory. From his observations, Lowell was believed that the canals on the planet had been dug by the intelligent being and he continued to promote this ideology strongly for a long time.
By the 1900s, popular songs music spoke of transmitting messages between Mars and Earth through large signal mirrors. Additionally, some writers including H. Wells who published The War of the Worlds in 1898 described the earth being invaded by Martians, who were technologically superior, but desperately in search of water. Facts started discrediting most of the conceptions when the first robotic spacecraft was launched to Mars in the sixties and images from the first orbiter and flyby presented a desolate environment that was characterized by craters similar to those seen on the moon.
The first wave of exploration of the planet ended with the Viking mission that sent two landers and orbiters to Mars in 1975, where the landers were comprised of experiments which searched for life chemically. Numerous scientists viewed the results of the tests as negative and this deflated any hopes of the planet where there was widespread life. Scientists had numerous other reasons for their interest in Mars apart from seeking to know if life existed, and the mission that followed through Mars Observer focused on studying the climate and geology of the planet.
Nonetheless, through the next two decades that followed, newer developments in studies on earth resulted in shifts in the manner in which scientists thought about Mars and life. Among them was an announcement in 1996 that a meteorite that could have come from Mars contained what could possibly be ancient microbe fossils.
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