Today at approximately 3:30 PM EST, NASA anticipates landing its latest envoy on Mars: a duo comprised of the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter drone that will search for ancient signs of life and explore the terrain in anticipation of a possible manned exploration mission. My oldest son is ecstatic to witness this historic event. He is 6 years old and his current aspiration is to be an astronaut. His favorite planet is Mars, of course. He hopes to go there one day.
As I also eagerly await the start of today's live broadcast, I can't help but reflect on the myriad ways this impressive feat of 21st century science and engineering demonstrates in a small way just how interconnected we earthly humans are. I have spent the past few weeks immersed in planning and launching The Akia Shop. Many recent nights have included carefully making martakia to send out in anticipation of March 1st. March is my and my younger son's birthday month in addition to Greek Independence Day. "March" has been on my mind.
It's not a far leap to realize that the month of March and the planet Mars share the same linguistic root: Mars (Roman) or Ares (Greek) - the ancient Olympian god of war. In antiquity, the month of March belonged to Ares or Mars and was the beginning of the calendar year, as it marked the start of spring and the annual renewal of the earth. It was fitting that the month of spring was named after Mars/Ares, as warmer weather also meant that battles could resume among the ancient city-states. The ancient Babylonians, who named their days of the week after the celestial bodies they observed, included Mars as a day - associating the day and the planet with the color red and aggression and performing weekly ceremonies to try to avoid its influence. The ancient Greeks, influenced by Mesopotamian astronomical knowledge, also observed a "Mars/Ares Day," the Ἡμέρα Ἄρεως, and named the planet for their god of war - "the star of Ares." The ancient Egyptians tracked Mars through their night sky and associated the planet with their deity Horus, while the Chinese named it the "fire star." Today, thousands of years later, we measure our year with a calendar that includes the month of Mars and even, in many languages, the weekly Mars Day (i.e. martedi in Italian, martes in Spanish, even Tuesday in English comes from "Tews," the English name for the ancient god of war). I can't help but be humbled at the thought of ancient astronomers staring at the sky, without the interference of city lights but also without the aid of modern telescopes, carefully studying the journey of Mars night after night, year after year, feeling a part of something greater than themselves.
Meanwhile, more than 290 million miles away, the red planet spins on its axis as usual, unaware that it continues to inspire and fascinate humans now just as it did thousands of years ago. As you watch today's landing or when you say "kalo mina" on March 1st and tie on your (red!) martaki, perhaps you, like me, will take a minute to marvel at how Mars - the star of Ares - and its presence in the night sky throughout the centuries connects us to our past and to our ancestors who first tried to make sense of our universe.