By Bob Davis
Here's a space trip that's pretty far out even if it doesn't reach Neptune. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will soon hunt for pyramids. On Mars.
The space agency says it has granted a longstanding request from some space buffs, who call themselves the Mars Project, to photograph the Cydonia region of Mars. Cydoina may be home to a field of pyramids and other rock formations erected by alien beings, sepculate Mars Project enthusiasts, who pore over old photos of Mars looking for odd things. They have even found one rock formation that looks like a human face.
Richard Hoagland, the Mars Project founder, says he assumes that through the pyramids the aliens are trying to tell us "something significant, something useful." But he doesn't know just what yet.
Mr. Hoagland's ruminations have long been a source of merriment amoung space scientist. But NASA started taking him more seriously after he recently recruited Rep. Robert Roe, a New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the House Science and Space Committee, to help him. Rep Roe's staff asked NASA whether it planned to photograph Cydonia with its Mars Observer spacecraft, scheduled for launch in September 1992--with the clear implication that if it didn't it should. "With space, there are so many unknowns, why not take a picture?" reasons Robert Maitlin, an aide to Rep. Roe.
So now NASA, grudgingly, says it will try to unravel the pyramid scheme with new photos of Cydonia. "We'll try, if only to kill off the rumors," says Arden Albee, the Mars Observer project scientist.
The Mars Observer camera can see objects as small as a car. If aliens bulit in Cydonia, says Michael Malin, the Arizona State University scientist who manages the camera for NASA, there should be small buildings, roads and dump sites. "That would be clear evidence" that the formations aren't just weird geology, he says.
But the Mars Project's Mr. Hoagland says that's asking too much. Roads could erode, over time, and aliens might have different ways of building things from those of humans. What he's looking for are unsual geometric patterns that indicate the presence of intelligence. "I don't want to limit ourselves to things we'd expect to see," he says. "How alien is alien?"