Byline: MICHAEL HANLON
WHEN I was a small boy, I assumed that one day I would voyage to Mars. This was the great age of astronautics, when chisel-jawed, American heroes were blasting off to the Moon atop rocketships the size of skyscrapers.
From these tentative small steps, the magazines and newspapers told us, would come a new age of human exploration. By the dawn of the then-distant 21st century, surely it would be possible for ordinary men and women to take a visit not only to the Moon but to Mars, the Red Planet, on board great space liners.
And what a destination. Mars is a planet of extremes: huge canyons 2,000 miles long and miles deep. Volcanoes the size of France.
Shimmering ice caps and vast, rust-coloured deserts. Even though it is now sadly clear I will never go, to this day, my fascination with this extraordinary planet continues unabated.
Mars has always teetered on a line between fantasy and science. A hundred years ago, we thought it was home to little green men. For the past century, scientists have argued whether the Red Planet might be home to lichens or bacteria, or whether it is as dead as the Moon.
In an attempt to answer these questions, I have written a book on Mars, separating what we know about the Fourth Planet from what we think we know.
Can Mars really support life?
Could people one day live there? Will we ever go?
Are our ideas about the Red Planet science? Or just science fiction?
My closest …