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Mars and The Great Galactic Ghoul

by Les Hewitt

Great Galactic Ghoul or Human Error?

The Number of Failed Mars Probes is Uncanny

Ever since biblical times, mankind has been making astute observations of all of the known planets within the solar system. While many of the outer planets have only been discovered in more recent history, ancient civilisations have been fascinated with the inner solar system. The overwhelming passion for these ancient astronomers has been Mars. However, successfully getting any probe there has proven to be a bizarrely daunting task. This is the basis for what some people call the Great Galactic Ghoul.

The article Exploration of Mars in Wikipedia explains:

The phrase “Galactic Ghoul”or “Great Galactic Ghoul”, referring to a fictitious space monster that subsists on a diet of Mars probes, was coined in 1997 by Time Magazine journalist Donald Neff, and is sometimes facetiously used to “explain” the recurring difficulties.

great galactic ghoul

Is there such a thing as the Great Galactic Ghoul? This illustration depicts a concept for NASA’s Mars Telecommunications Orbiter. NASA.

Popular science fiction authors have long considered Mars to be the source for alien civilisations that have come to Earth in order to do us harm or take over our home. Most familiar of these tales is likely to be H.G. Wells ‘The War of the Worlds’. Such is the appeal of this timeless work that it has never been out of print in over a century.

Failed Mars Missions

It was only recently that technology firmly caught up with man’s curiosity. The last fifty or so years has seen plenty of probes and spacecraft make their way to our closest and best known neighbour. While not alone in humanity’s desire to learn more about the solar system we reside in, Mars is far and away the most popular planetary destination for our thirst for knowledge. Given this fact, it should be expected that, at times, something will go awry with any mission at any time. Statistics suggest that only a third of all missions sent to the Red Planet are actually successful. Scientists can’t fully understand why the other two thirds fail. To NASA and the Soviet Union, this goes beyond all expectations. While Mission Controllers can expect at least some failure, the sheer volume of unsuccessful launches is cause for some concern.

Strange Interference

Is there something on Mars that someone, or something, doesn’t want us to discover, and are interfering with most of our efforts to learn more? This is what proponents of the Great Galactic Ghoul theory maintain. Of the missions that have made it to Mars, plenty of images have made it online that show a whole host of features and formations that defy explanation. The Cydonia region is a mystery all of its own. Mars landers have sent back images of Sphinx-like statues, pyramids, apparent life forms, fossils and unknown lights.

great galactic ghoul

Cydonia (The City), Mars. The famous face of Mars in upper right corner. Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera Release, published by NASA.

Failed Mars Missions Mount

The long list of failed Mars missions began with the first half a dozen probes sent there. All but one of these were Soviet missions that were only supposed to fly-by the planet. Several of these missions broke apart once Earth orbit had been established. Failures like these might be expected, given that the human race had never tried anything of this ilk before.

The first mission that made it as far as Mars was Mariner 4, NASA’s second attempt made in 1964. 21 images were sent back to Mission Control. Russia attempted numerous times to send a probe to Mars but didn’t make a successful trip until 1971. This probe, Mars 2 Orbiter/Lander, made it as far as it’s intended destination but the lander was destroyed and no data was received. The Russians assumed that this probe was lost like so many others before it. Subsequently, the Mars 3 mission was the first Soviet success story. The lander touched down but only recorded several seconds of data, while the orbiter maintained contact for 8 months.

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Over the course of the next four years, several missions were launched. Two of these missed Mars entirely and are probably still adrift somewhere within the solar system. One, Mars 7 Lander, is said to be in solar orbit. In 1975 a breakthrough in Martian exploration was achieved when NASA sent a pair of probes which likely made all previous failures worth it. The Viking probes were the first real success story, sending back in excess of 16,000 images, including the notorious Cydonia photos. It seemed the Great Galactic Ghoul was at work. It would be almost 20 years after this that another probe was a success.

great galactic ghoul

Mars probe, Viking 2 Selfie on Mars. Sept. 3, 1976, NASA.

Japan Attempts a Mars Mission

In 1998, a new nation tried their luck with a probe, however, they too had a failed Mars mission. The Japanese probe, Nozomi, was lost when fuel problems contributed to the probe’s failure to properly insert into Mars orbit. To date, this marked the beginning and end of Japan’s efforts to study the Red Planet. Since the launch of Nozomi, both the European Space Agency (ESA) and India have made launches toward the Red Planet. Both were deemed to be a success, but the ESA Beagle 2 lander failed to touch down on the surface of Mars. The India probe was the last mission that was sent to Mars back in 2013.

Mars and The Galactic Ghoul in Action

In the early days of Martian exploration, an idea began to develop that intent was behind these failures. What started as a probable joke quickly gained recognition outside of space agencies and an entire conspiracy theory was built up behind the so-called Great Galactic Ghoul. There can be little doubt that plenty of unforeseen technical issues may have plagued hardware such as a planetary lander and something not expected to happen had happened. Other causes could be nothing more than basic human error. This could explain fates that befell certain probes or missions, but some of these historic probes have disappeared completely.

Could the Great Galactic Ghoul have ushered them away from Earth control? NASA launched the Mars Observer in 1993 and when the probe was just 3 days from arriving, it ceased all transmissions. Officially, the propulsion system sprung a leak and the probe spun out of control as a result. All electronics were switched into safe mode and no transmissions were possible after this.

Cursed Mars Movies

If there is indeed a curse connected with all things Mars, then it extends beyond mere probes sent towards fact-finding missions to the planet. There have been quite a few films made within a Martian setting. Mission to Mars, Red Planet, John Carter and Last Days on Mars never fared well with either cinema-goers or critics alike. The original release of Total Recall and the recent hit The Martian did much better at the box office, the latter being credited by The Washington Post as ‘having saved NASA and future space exploration’.

great galactic ghoul

The Great Galactic Ghoul. From the novel, War of the Worlds. 1906. Public Domain.

Video games are not immune to a possible curse either. In 2012, Bioware released the third game in their acclaimed Mass Effect trilogy. While not set on Mars, there was a mission early in the game that required Commander Shepard to visit an outpost on Mars. The conclusion of this game caused a severe backlash from many gamers about the ending. So much so, that Bioware developers were encouraged to supplement the ending with additional downloadable content to satisfy gamers later that same year. A more recent title based solely on Mars is the updated version of the classic Doom franchise of the 1990s. Generally, the reviews of this updated version have been positive. Video games do tend to transition to film, mostly to the chagrin of critics. Doom was no exception to this rule when it was released in cinemas in 2005.

Man vs. The Great Galactic Ghoul

The next stage of Martian exploration is, of course, to send astronauts there. These intrepid souls will have to face a whole host of challenges from a logistical and physical perspective. Schedules have yet to be finalized, but the current estimates is that man will set foot on Mars in 10-15 years time. Hopefully, we have all the Great Galactic Ghoul kinks worked out. Who could be waiting for them and what will they find there?

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