In a virtual studio that holds some objects emblematic of the conquest of space (interpreted with imagination), professor Giovanni Bignami and the scientific journalist Giosuè Boetto Cohen tell the history of the discovery of the Red Planet in three parts entitled From Galileo to the First Space Probes (Da Galileo alle prime sonde spaziali) (I and II) and From the Viking Probes to Human Flight (Dalle sonde Viking al volo umano).
We retrace the history of the first observations of the planet: from Galileo, to Domenico Cassini, who discovered with a good approximation its period of rotation. Then we pass on to the succession of discoveries and hypothesis: from William Herschel, who was the first to think to the presence of polar icecaps, to Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli and Camille Flammarion, known for his accurate drawings of the surface of Mars, and particularly of the canals, that stimulated so much the scholars’ imagination.
News of fundamental importance about Mars comes to us thanks to the probes, starting with Mariner that, in 1965, with its first photographs of the surface, aroused a great emotion at that time. It is then the time of Mariner 9, in 1972, that is the first probe put into orbit around Mars and transmitting to Earth images of the planet and of its satellites with a definition never achieved up to then. It is but Viking that, in 1976, takes for the first time two robot probes on the surface of Mars. With Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and the current or expected missions up to 2010, we end the history of the exploration of a planet that often suggested the hypothesis of the existence of life on it.