In 1976, 2 Viking spacecraft landed on Mars. What they found
caused tremendous new interest in Mars. Experiments conducted on
Martian soil showed possible organic activity - life.
In the 1990's, more startling news. A meteorite found on Earth was found to be of Martian origin. The meteorite contained fossilized micro organisms- possibly from Mars itself. A mars rover landed in 1997 and explored a small area around it's landing site.
In 2004, 2 spacecraft- spirit and opportunity landed and roved around the surface. they found evidence that Mars once had oceans of liquid water- essential for life as we know it. There is still the possibility that there are huge amounts of liquid water underneath the martian surface where temperatures are higher. Opportunity is still actively exploring Mars 8 years after landing there.
It seems Mars is becoming as dynamic a planet as the Earth. Recent discoveries indicate the present of methane on Mars- a possible by- product of organic activity.
The spacecraft Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars in
August,2012 to again look for evidence of past or present
life.These unmanned missions are revealing Mars in a whole new
Budget cutbacks are slowly killing NASA's unmanned and manned Mars programs. The scientist Werner von Braun had a plan to send Americans to Mars as early as 1985. The plan was scrapped because of lack of funds for this kind of mission. NASA now has no plans to send Americans to Mars before 2030- or maybe 2050.
Recently a Dutch company proposed a bold exciting plan. It is called Mars 1. It would send humans not just to land on Mars but to colonize the planet.The astronauts will not be returning to Earth, rather they would be the first people to colonize a new world- Mars. They would have enough food and supplies arriving ahead of them to build a thriving permanent community on Mars, such as we now have on Antarctica.
Unmanned probes are valuable, but human exploration is needed to really search for past or present life on the planet.The discovery of Martian life would have astounding implications which we don't even realize yet.
If NASA cannot do this because of budget slashes from Congress, then private corporations must take up the slack. We have to again regain our will to leave the gravitational pull of the earth and venture out to new horizons and new worlds. It is a natural trait of the human race to explore and discover.The international space station is making valuable contributions, but it cannot answer the question- is there life beyond earth.
Not to have humans on Mars would be like Columbus saying we should not discover a new world across the Atlantic.