Blues for a Red Planet

(Rockets to Mars)
Cosmos
by Carl Sagan
A Personal Journey
13 episodes
See below for
DVD purchasing options
(Carl Sagan's Cosmos episode no. 5)
  • written by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan & Steven Soter
  • series director & executive producer Adrian Malone
  • Observatory and social sequences directed by David Kennard
  • Mars sequences directed by Richard J. Wells
  • Spaceship directed by Rob McCain
  • other sequences directed by David F. Oyster
  • edited by James Latham (film) and Roy Stewart (videotape)

  • Main Title Theme by Vangelis
  • Music by Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Antonio Vivaldi,
    Wm. Jeffery Boydstun, Edgar Froese, and others...
  • 1 documentary @ 61 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak


This episode attempts to chart over time a change in our beliefs about Mars and in our attitudes towards the planet, where most of this change comes about as we acquire more hard facts and better data through science. And the episode does a pretty good job of that, even if its ending is a bit more skewed towards a struggle that Sagan and his colleagues were embroiled in, rather than a true picture of the mindset of the public at large. Though there may have been a moment or period of some disappointment, did we ever really lose our excitement for the planet Mars?

Participants include:

Dr. Carl Sagan

Astronomer, host, narrator
Voyager imaging team

Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences,
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Sagan begins with two key inspirations for the earlier prevailing beliefs about Mars. The earliest section is all about the famous novel of H.G. Wells: "The War of the Worlds", an exercise of nearly pure imagination in contrasting then-current Human culture with something older that may have evolved quite differently in a resource-drained Martian environment. It is also noted how the later radio adaptation of this novel by Orson Wells re-energized its hold over the American psyche.

Timed nearly in parallel are the thoughts championed by Percival Lowell. These at least were fueled by some of the best observations by telescope that anyone was able to achieve at the time, but with a bit of misinterpretation in translating a colleague's observations from Italian to English, and with a passion for speculation, Mars was once again thought to be home to a civilization in present time, as Lowell believed his observations might include evidence of their construction activities.

According to Sagan, these two sources helped propel a multitude of other imaginations concerning Mars. He himself got quite hooked on a series of adventure fiction novels taking place on Mars. It is quite curious to learn how casually many authors had their protagonists travel from Earth to Mars, with no vehicle or mechanism more sophisticated than "wishing". Most bizarre.


Celebrating Rocketry

"Cosmos" next delivers something quite unique, something perhaps more applicable to all of space exploration, which could be dropped into any episode. But the fact that Mars remained such a potent inspiration and a target for our imagination and projections, this likely is really the best place for it.

It is the very mechanical science of rocketry that takes center stage here, and this episode gives significant focus to one of the key figures in its invention: Robert Goddard. This episode's somewhat half-hearted attempts at the usual historical recreation are upstaged by something better, because where the invention of rocketry is concerned, we have plenty of archival photographs and early film footage. We end up watching a lot of the real thing instead in this episode, and the rocket mishaps, where Goddard didn't quite get everything to work perfectly yet, are priceless, informative, educational, and quite entertaining.

In preparation for understanding Mars, we first take a good look at the Earth from space, to see exactly how close and detailed a photo needs to be before signs of our civilization are detectable, much less obvious. A fascinating sequence.


Mars Info-Dump

Then we go to Mars, for a lengthy full-on download of information. Many, many maps and photos are shown, their rich details in sharp contrast to Lowell's crude sketches that featured earlier in the program. Sagan's inviting narration is loaded with information about Mars at this point, and even subsequent viewings of the episode allow us to learn things that we hadn't focused on before.

Another highlight at this point has Sagan cruising over the surface, and in particular through Mariner Valley, in his Ship of the Imagination. Perhaps it's worth noting the design of the Ship here, because on my first viewing, this is probably the point in the series when I first realised that the spikey star-shaped ball I'd been seeing so often was actually meant to be the exterior of the ship. This hadn't really been laid out with enough visual clarity in preceding episodes, or in episode 6 which I'd skipped ahead to earlier as well. It's really the act of putting Mariner Valley and the Martian surface behind it that forced me to re-evaluate its size - now much smaller than a star - and notice that it was actually following the same path as the visuals on Sagan's screen. Very bizarre. Perhaps more carefully introducing it with some words about the dandelion seed idea that it sprang from - ultimately a very worthy piece of organic imagery - might have helped smooth it into some kind of truce with the not-so-organic (or at all related) look of the interior set.

Still, Sagan's imaginary ship remains a cool place from which to gather and organize all the Mars information. Ultimately, we move from the data gathered by Mariner towards an actual first landing on Mars - the essence of the Viking program.

"Cosmos" then pulls off the signature sequence of the episode: simulating the Viking landing on Mars by borrowing a demo mock-up from NASA, lowering it into Death Valley, and intercutting Mars-tinted footage of its curious operations with the actual photos that it returned from the Martian surface. How's that for historical recreation? SPECTACULAR! It's particularly amusing to see that the first thing Viking did after landing was to give the finger to the Martian landscape (and by extension to any Martians who might happen to be looking). How rude! I guess we Humans have something to learn yet about interplanetary etiquette.


Viking's efforts to analyze the soil, and look for signs of life within it, then take center stage. Sagan recounts the results of 2 of the 3 life-searching results, saying they were positive, but doesn't really say how or if the third experiment gave significant reason to doubt that life was there. Hmmm. Perhaps communication could have been improved there.

The later chemistry lab scene actually inadvertently demonstrates the grand failing of western medicine - throwing chemicals randomly into a pot or patient, and just hoping that a healthy organism emerges! Sagan's ridiculing of certain expectations here is worthwhile.

At this point, the show coasts into then-future speculation, which may tempt us to look at it as outdated. Sagan emphasizes the need for mobile robotic explorers to carry the scientific baton for investigating Mars, while we see a very tall and awkward prototype lurching around the desert. Thank goodness circuit miniaturization made possible the much more elegant and compact rovers that we did eventually send to Mars since Cosmos was made, and whose excellent data we have enjoyed since.

But Sagan's story takes a sad turn here, as the tragic story of his colleague Wolf Vishniac exemplifies the struggle against cutbacks to the government-funded NASA programs such as Mars exploration. Vishniac's proposed experiment could have greatly helped solve the riddle of Martian soil, but didn't make it onto the spaceship for budgetary reasons. Perhaps this coloured Sagan's perception of public attitude towards Mars; perhaps he also believed people were profoundly disappointed to discover that there were no thriving civilizations currently to be found on the planet.

In the larger context of all that has happened since, with a second round of robotic exploration of Mars and other solar system bodies, and now new, more realistic plans for Human expeditions to Mars, I'm somehow not quite convinced that there really were all that many "Blues" sung for the Red Planet.


Perhaps it is because many of us are not quite as skeptical of all that has so far been discovered there. On the whole, Sagan appears as open-minded as any of us as to what the Pyramids of Elysium might represent, and that this should ideally be a prime site for further exploration. Only in the "Cosmos Update" recorded a decade later does he even mention the nearby infamous "Face of Mars". Though he displays here his usual disbelief that it amounts to any kind of intelligence, he does believe it's worth a closer look.

For my part, I believe some form of bacterial or other simple life forms will one day be confirmed on Mars, perhaps long after it has become a moot point, but that won't be the truly big story. Remnants of past intelligent civilization, buried under eons of sandstorms, would no doubt be a bigger deal, and this remains my own personal suspicion.... my default assumption. I'm not sure additional data, or more hard facts, could mean anything more to me than either, YES, so they finally admit they found it, or okay, so they still haven't found anything YET.

So why don't we entertain a default assumption of prior Martian civilization that nuked itself? Would we not approach the planet more respectfully, and even archeologically inclined?

But more to the point, perhaps we should take a good sociological look at ourselves. If any of us found remnants of a technological society on Mars (or for that matter, somewhere here on Earth), and we decided to try to reverse engineer and recreate or use any of the technological discoveries made there, would we want to tell the rest of our society all about it, or hoard the secrets of it for our own uses?

My belief continues to be that there are great archeological opportunities on Mars that have yet to become practical or publicly revealed and acknowledged. In that respect, Mars remains as it has always been in my mind, highly exciting.


To what degree might this episode have re-invigorated society's interest and emotions towards Mars? Of that, I can only speculate, but I suspect it certainly did its part then, as it still can today. It remains a darn good chart of about 100 years of our history leading up to our first robotic Mars landing, detailing our hopes and dreams and growing scientific understanding. This episode has become one of the de-facto standards and cornerstones upon which most other Mars documentaries build.


The Music - Episode 5 - Blues for a Red Planet

(Anything written in green text represents a name I made up to help keep some music better identified in my own head.)
Composer/PerformerTitleNotes
VangelisSymphony to the Powers B, Movement Three
also known as "Theme from Cosmos"
Title Music
Roy BuchananFly Night Bird
Gustav Holst
The Planets - Mars What's this?



Traditional? /
Jean-Philippe Rameau?
Frère Jacques3:49 - 4:20 (sung by children's choir)
Gustav MahlerSymphony No. 1 "Titan", Movement 34:03 - 4:26 (Mahler quotes "Frère Jacques",
but did not compose it.)
Gustav HolstMars4:22 - 4:38
Johann Strauss, Jr.Blue Danube Waltz4:38 - 5:14 (Marching band version)
Gustav HolstMars5:12 - 5:34
J.P. SousaThe Liberty Bell5:35... (Theme from "Monty Python's Flying Circus")
Gustav HolstThe Planets - Neptune6:09 - 10:25 (several excerpts merged)
11:05 - 12:11
Gustav HolstThe Planets - Mars12:03 - 13:35
Richard WagnerSiegfried's Funeral March (opening)13:31 - 14:21
?? unknown(replacement for Khatchaturian - Spartacus Act I, No. 3)
(tales of Thoats on Barsoum)
Samuel A. WardAmerica the Beautifulmelody @ 16:51 - 17:15
Jeff JonesPacific Eagle March17:14 - 18:16 (on synthesizers)
Antonio VivaldiConcerto RV 443 for Piccolo in C Major,
Movement 1, from the top
Robert Goddard & rockets
?? unknown(more humorous replacement[s] for
Rodger's "Theme of the Fast Carriers")
Antonio VivaldiConcerto RV 443 for Piccolo in C Major,
Movement 1, short excerpt
rockets into orbit
Wm. Jeffery Boydstun
In Motion Delta 01 -> 02 What's this?
Let's listen...
(This is possibly the most definitive use for
the transition between part 01 and part 02 as
photographic resolution becomes detailed enough
to reveal civilization on a planet's surface...)
VangelisEntends-Tu Les Chiens Aboyer? #1 - Main Theme...28:39
Gustav HolstMars28:37 - 30:41 (skimming through Mariner Valley)
?? unknown - simple warm synth pads and sax
Igor StravinskyFirebird - Finale movementWhen one plays the end first and then the beginning,
as here, it is useful to say:
"Houston, this is Stravinsky. The Firebird has landed."
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - Data Drilldown(strange beeping down-swooping electronics
for Mars photos)
Antonio VivaldiMandolin Concerto in C Major, Movement 1(Viking digs up samples)
Edgar FroeseEpsilon in Malaysian Pale(I dub this excerpt: "Epsilon in Martian Soil")
Wm. Jeffery BoydstunIn Motion Delta 01 -> 02
Stravinsky???? unknown44:14 - 44:44 (classical for wild chemical mixing)
Wm. Jeffery BoydstunIn Motion Delta [02 ->] 03(mostly just 03)
?? Vangelis???Comet Movement? - Rockin' Construct Lurch47:12 - 48:08
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - "Trekking Theme" excerpt48:04...
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 4 - Movement 1: Andante excerpt
Alan HovhanessPrayer of St. Gregory
?? unknown - simple warm synth pads and sax
Roy BuchananFly Night Bird
Nikolai Rimsky-KorsakovThe Tale of Tsar Saltan - Movement 2
"The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea"
Cosmos Update begins
VangelisTheme from CosmosCosmos Update concludes
Roy BuchananFly Night Bird(credits)
VangelisComet 16Collector's Edition 2000 Credits


Gustav Holst
The Planets
(bundled with Enigma variations)

Original music
composed by Gustav Holst
performed by
Boston Symphony Orchestra
William Steinberg conducting.

Audio CD

Holst - The Planets / Elgar - Enigma:

U.S.


Canada

U.K.


This is the very CD by which I fell in love with Holst's magnificent "Planets" suite, long, long before I ever saw "Cosmos". In fact, I still have a bit of a hard time associating it with "Cosmos". Ever since I used it to flesh out a recreation of "The Dalek Masterplan", it has been inextricably fused to that classic old Doctor Who story in my head instead.

Incidentally, this is the very version of Jupiter also used by the Canadian Space channel for their "Space News" intro and identification logo.

Though it's not the very same version used in Cosmos, it is widely regarded as one of the best recordings out there, and certainly an excellent one to have.

This album available on CD only.

Track Listing:

"Enigma": Variations on an Original Theme (Edward Elgar)
1. Enigma: Andante
2. (C.A.E.): L'istesso tempo
3. (H.D.S.-P.): Allegro
4. (R.B.T.): Allegretto
5. (W.M.B.): Allegro di molto
6. (R.P.A.): Moderato
7. (Ysobel): Andantino
8. (Troyte): Presto
9. (W.N.): Allegretto
10. (Nimrod): Adagio
11. Intermezzo (Dorabella): allegretto
12. (G.R.S.): Allegro di molto
13. (B.G.N.): Andante
14. Romanza (***): Moderato
15. Finale (E.D.U.): Allegro - Presto (5:17)

The Planets (Gustav Holst):
16. Mars, the Bringer of War (6:37)
17. Venus, the Bringer of Peace (7:28)
18. Mercury, the Winged Messenger (4:00)
19. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (8:03)
20. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (7:49)
21. Uranus, the Magician (5:28)
22. Neptune, the Mystic (6:46)


Gustav Holst
The Planets
(bundled w. Ligeti's Lux aeterna)

Original music
composed by Gustav Holst
performed by
Boston Symphony Orchestra
William Steinberg conducting.

Audio CD and mp3 album

This is the same recording of "The Planets" as above, but in a different album bundle. Those looking to download recordings in mp3 form will have better luck with this version.

Holst's Planets - Physical Audio CD:

U.S.

Canada

U.K.

Holst's Planets

Track Listing:

The Planets (Gustav Holst):
1. Mars (6:34)
2. Venus (7:23)
3. Mercury (3:56)
4. Jupiter (7:59)
5. Saturn (7:42)
6. Uranus (5:22)
7. Neptune (6:45)

Lux Aeterna (Gyorgi Ligeti):
8. Modern Chorusmusic - Lux Aeterna (7:57)

Holst's Planets - Mp3 Album:

U.S.

U.K.

Holst's Planets

Track Listing:

The Planets (Gustav Holst):
1. Mars (6:34)
2. Venus (7:23)
3. Mercury (3:56)
4. Jupiter (7:59)
5. Saturn (7:42)
6. Uranus (5:22)
7. Neptune (6:45)

Lux Aeterna (Gyorgi Ligeti):
8. Modern Chorusmusic - Lux Aeterna (7:57)



This documentary has become available on DVD.
Cosmos - by Carl Sagan: A Personal Journey


13 hour-long episodes, 1980
U.S.

Canada

U.K.


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Read the data capsule review for the next episode: "Travellers' Tales"



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