After decades of space exploration, and countless movies on the subject, why exactly does Mars continue to inspire such high levels of cultural and scientific fascination?
Both the red planet and NASA — the most prominent vehicle for space exploration — are coasting on a wave of newfound popularity, taking center stage in big-budget Hollywood productions. Whether by coincidence or design, the favorable treatment of NASA by Tinseltown comes at a time when the space agency recently discovered the existence of water on Mars, and last week openly declared colonizing the planet within the next 20 years as "an achievable goal."
Given threats from outer space, at least a few scientists think the survival of humanity may hinge on finding a new, hospitable planet to colonize. Just a few years ago, NASA critics and even some supporters were openly questioning whether the Mars science laboratory was worth its $2.5 billion price tag.
Fast forward a few years, and the space agency is moving full speed toward establishing a human presence on the planet — a quest that looks less and less quixotic by the day.
"Mars is obviously the logical next place to expand our capabilities and getting Earth crews there," Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin told CNBC in a recent phone interview, in which he described his efforts to promote more awareness about outer space among children and the general public.
The famed astronaut and second man to walk on the moon's surface said sending humans to the planet would be an accomplishment "that's unparalleled in humanity."