ars is closer to the earth than it has been in roughly 60,000 years. Legions of modern star-gazers have been inspired by the writings of Ray Bradbury, whose 1950 novel, "The Martian Chronicles," describes earthlings' first attempt to conquer and colonize the red planet.
On Friday, as Bradbury turned 83, the Los Angeles author and futurist spoke with Signal City Editor Leon Worden about missions to Mars ... and life on Earth.
Signal: First of all, happy birthday.
Bradbury: Thank you so much.
Signal: How would you gauge the sudden interest in Mars, and the general interest in space overall?
Bradbury: Well it's time. We've been away from this subject too long. We should never have left the moon. You know, we've been interested in the space shuttle now for 25 years, which is a bore. What changed our life was landing on the moon. The next big step is to return to the moon, establish headquarters there, and then set out for Mars with a live crew so they can really explore Mars because it's a substitute for war.
Everything we're doing in the world today has to do with destruction and death and murder and war, and we need something to make us all feel better, and that's space travel.
Signal: You've been labeled a futurist; would you consider yourself an optimist?
Bradbury: No, no. I'm not an optimist. I'm an optimal behaviorist.
Signal: What does that mean?
MARS TREK TONIGHT
Mars fever. It's contagious and it's spreading.
Tonight the afflicted will caravan past Frazier Park to the top of Mt. Piños, whose 8,300-foot vantage point offers an excellent viewing platform for the red planet.
It's the final weekend before Mars comes the closest it's been to Earth in approximately 60,000 years 56 million kilometers, or about 35 million miles. That will happen in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
"Neanderthals were the last to observe Mars so favorably placed," a NASA article said.
It's called a "perihelic opposition." Mars is near "perihelion," its closest approach to the sun. At the same time, the sun, Earth and Mars are in a straight line, with Earth in the middle. Mars and the sun are on "opposite" sides of the Earth. It's as close as the two planets ever get.
Scientists know of a few other times they've come almost as close as they will on Wednesday: Aug. 23, 1924; Aug. 18, 1845; and Aug. 13, 1766. Mars and the Earth will have another close pass in 2287.
Tonight's viewing at Mt. Piños is open to the public, but there are precautions.
"People need to be mindful that it gets very cold at Mt. Piños. Even in the summer it will be in the high 30s and low 40s," said Jim Mahon, who organizes "star parties" for The Local Group, a Santa Clarita Valley-based organization of astronomy buffs.
Mahon said the public can make the trek, but participants should dress warmly, arrive before nightfall, shut off all car lights, bring a flashlight covered with a red gel, and pack a snack because there will be a bit of a wait. The optimal viewing time is around 1 a.m.
Although The Local Group isn't the organizer of tonight's event, Mahon said, the SCV organization will be throwing its own party closer to home on Sept. 6.
That event, open to all comers, will be held at Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce, with Mars again taking center stage in the viewfinder.
For information about The Local Group visit www.lgscv.org. To reach Mt. Piños, exit Interstate 5 at the Frazier Park turnoff and travel west for about 21 miles.
Bradbury: If you behave yourself, and you behave optimally every day of your life, every week, every month, every year if you do the thing that you love, up to the optimal mark, at the end of a year of doing what you should be doing, you feel good. You have a feeling of real optimism...
Signal: That said, do you think we, as a race, will ever overcome our tendency toward violence?
Bradbury: No, but we can use that and go off to Mars and we'll be killed along the way, and we'll settle in on Mars, and we'll always be ridiculous, but we'll always be wonderful.
Signal: Would we not just be taking our human condition and transporting it to Mars?
Bradbury: Sure. Of course. But we've got to expect that. We've only been a short time out of the cave. I've done an article called, "Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars." We're the in-between generation. It's going to take us thousands of years to move in space and change our character somewhat and become more peaceful cave dwellers out in the open. It's going to take time, and that's why we have to endeavor ourselves with going back to the moon and Mars, because it's all peaceful and it's all beautiful.
Signal: What's your vision for the moon? Do you see the establishment of colonies and cities?
Bradbury: Both. We should go to the moon because we don't have to build a space station. I've never understood building a space station when the moon is a good, solid space station to take off and use (for) going to Mars.
Signal: How could the creation of a viable atmosphere be affordable?
Bradbury: Everything's affordable if you want it. We're spending $300 billion a year on our war effort, right? So you take $1 billion of that and put it into space instead. It's a very small amount, isn't it?
Signal: NASA's mission is "to understand and protect our home planet, to explore the universe and search for life, to inspire the next generation of explorers." Is NASA meeting those goals?
Bradbury: Well, they're not as much fun as they should be. I should be in charge. I can jump up and down and scream and yell and enthuse people. They don't seem to be able to do that.
Signal: When did you first get interested in Mars?
Bradbury: When I was 8 years old I read the martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and when I was 12 I began to write short stories, and the first thing I wrote was a sequel to "The Gods of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I began by looking at the drawings and photographs by (19th-century Italian astronomer Giovanni) Scaparelli of Mars, and also the photographs from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, and Mars looked wonderful and I wanted to go there and I did, and I never came back.
Signal: What happened in your sequel?
Bradbury: It was terrible. It's somewhere. I've got everything put away, but I don't want to read it now.
Signal: It was some time ago that you were 8 or 12 years old. Did you believe, at that time, that you would see missions to Mars in your lifetime?
Bradbury: I thought, when I was a teenager, that we might land on the moon when I was 80 or so. And I was way off. I was in my 40s when we landed on the moon. So we beat the record.
Signal: But since then, do you think we've been moving too slowly?
Bradbury: We came back from the moon. It's stupid. We should have stayed there.
Signal: Why do you believe that we did not?
Bradbury: Because we have no one in Congress in either party who cares about space. Sen. (Bob) Packwood (R-Ore.) was one of the few that cared about space travel. I went to his office in Washington 20 years ago and it was full of books by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and all my friends and by me, and we're still good friends. And we got rid of him. Why did we get rid of him? Because he tussled with his secretary. He didn't do anything else, not compared to the president of the United States who was stupid and ridiculous. He and Monica (Lewinsky). But I'm still in touch with Sen. Packwood, telling him he's a good guy.
Signal: The rovers will be on Mars in December and January. Several members of the Mars team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory live here in the Santa Clarita Valley. Do you have a message for them?
Bradbury: Well, just, light a candle and pray (chuckle). Because some of our last efforts failed us. You're dealing with traveling over millions of miles of space with equipment that can go wrong on you, no matter how much time you spend, no matter how much effort. The miracle is, we've gone as far as we've gone with very little destruction.
Signal: Do you think they will find life in some form on Mars?
ABOUT RAY BRADBURY
Ray Bradbury has published nearly 600 original works short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, television scripts and verse including books that have become American classics such as "The Martian Chronicles" (1950), "The Illustrated Man" (1951) and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1962).
"Fahrenheit 451" (1953), considered by many to be his masterpiece, condemns censorship in a future totalitarian world where the written word is forbidden.
Since the 1960s, Bradbury's imagination has stretched beyond the printed page and the television screen. His ideas have been incorporated into Walt Disney Co. theme parks in Florida and France, and he has "concepted" numerous shopping centers from coast to coast including the Horton Plaza in San Diego and the new Hollywood and Highland complex.
Born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., Bradbury graduated high school in Los Angeles in 1938 and became a full-time writer in 1943. He lives with his wife, Maggie, in West Los Angeles, where he writes something new every morning.
Bradbury: When we get there, we'll be the martians.
Signal: Shades of "The Martian Chronicles."
Bradbury: You're damn right.
Signal: Mars will be this close again in the year 2287. What do you think Earth will look like then?
Bradbury: Well, maybe we'll get rid of a lot of TV, I hope. (Earth) could look better if we could destroy most television shows and most bad movies. Maybe we'll be making more quality movies by then. Maybe we'll redo our educational system and begin teaching reading and writing again. We're not doing it now, and until we do, we're going to be a stupid race.
Signal: What kind of television programs would you like to see?
Bradbury: Anything except what's on there, huh? I watch the Turner broadcast night after night; the old movies are better no matter how dumb they are they're better than what we're doing now, and (we need) more documentaries, more histories of the various countries of the world, more films on the miracle of life under sea. When you look at the varieties of life that are under the ocean anything that puts the sense of the miraculous in you, that we're living in a very strange element in this planet, and we should appreciate the fact we're alive. Anything that makes you feel alive is good.
Signal: What's our obligation to our children in terms of education and space?
Bradbury: Everything. We're not doing it. If you don't read and write, you can't be educated, you can't care about living. You've got to put something in people's heads so the metaphors bounce around and collide with each other and create new metaphors. That's the success I've had, of daring to put different metaphors together, bashing their heads together and saying, "oh my God, I didn't think of that, how wonderful."
Signal: Technology has made headlines lately: the power blackout back east, computer viruses that take down systems. Where is technology taking us?
Bradbury: Anywhere we want it to take us. We're doing fine with technology and medicine has improved all our lives. Until 1939, millions of people died, millions of children died. But with penicillin and sulfanilamide, people stopped dying. Jonas Salk came along, developed the (polio) vaccine. In medical terms the world has been changed all for the good.
Technologically speaking, we have created here in the United States and given to the world new genetic structures for foodstuffs all over the world, better breeds of corn, better types of wheat, so we've improved ourselves incredibly.
Now, we have to conquer the death rate on our highways. ... We kill 40,000 people a year on our highways, and we worry about 10 anthrax letters written by some pharmacist in New Jersey. Come on. To hell with that. There was no anthrax attack. We're a panicked nation when it comes to reacting to nothing.
Signal: Are you a promoter of mass transit?
Bradbury: I started it 40 years ago. I backed the Elwig monorail people to build a grid of 12 monorail systems to cure our traffic problems instead of the freeways, and the (Los Angeles) City Council turned down their offer. I was at the meeting 40 years ago when I was 42. (The proponents were) offering it to us free if we let them run the system. ... I asked for three minutes at the end of the meeting and I got up and (said), "To paraphrase Winston Churchill, rarely have so many owed so little to so few." And they threw me out of the meeting.
Signal: But you stayed with urban planning; you did the concept for Horton Plaza in San Diego.
Bradbury: I've created malls all over the country. They built a new mall in Hollywood ... last year at the corner of Highland and Hollywood, based on a plan that I saw in a film called "Intolerance" by D.W. Griffith which came out in 1916. I told them to build it in Hollywood and the tourists would come to see it. And they did that and it's there now.
Signal: What do you think about the urban sprawl in greater Los Angeles? Do you have any advice for urban planners?
Bradbury: No, keep on doing it. People coming from the east have got to live somewhere.
Signal: What's next for you? What's the work in progress?
Bradbury: Three new books and four new plays and a new book of short stories and a partridge in a pear tree.
Signal: You're a friend of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Who's your pick for governor?
Bradbury: Schwarzenegger. I know him and he's a good guy. All of the politicians who are criticizing Schwarzenegger for running, all of these guys went to college, and they all have degrees, and they're great politicians, and they've created a $39 billion deficit. Why should we trust them? I'd rather trust a smart guy like Schwarzenegger.