True Colors of Mars

There is overwhelming evidence that NASA has been intentionally altering the color of their Mars lander pictures, making the planet's environment appear to be extremely red and inhospitable to life. This practice began in 1976, with the very first color picture to be sent back from Mars during the Viking Mission and it continues on to this day. The question is: Why?

AP/NASA Photos

NASA Color Comparison: The Associated Press photo on the left was taken Jan. 10, 2004 at a NASA news conference, where JPL scientists showed the latest picture of the Martian landscape. The picture, seen projected behind them, shows that the Spirit Rover landing site actually looks like a salmon-colored desert here on Earth, with a blue sky. On the right, is the same picture (zoomed out) as it was later released to the public by NASA. As you can see, NASA has drastically altered the true colors of Mars, changing its Earth-like appearance into a very inhospitable looking Hell-like appearance, before making the picture available to the press.

NASA Photo

Mars Color Comparison: The photo on the left shows the Spirit Rover's "air bag marks" on the surface of Mars. This is the dark, rust-tinted version that NASA released to the public. As you can see, much of the detail in the picture is masked by the dark, muddy shading. The photo on the right is the same picture, but with a more accurate color calibration. It shows the salmon-colored soil of the Spirit Rover's landing site and as you can see, by balancing the color, much more detail is visible.

NASA's Lead Pancam Scientist has admitted that the color in the Mars Rover pictures is wrong:

Ever since the first color picture from the Spirit Rover made its debut on Jan. 7, 2004, NASA scientists have been facing a lot of tough questions from the media about the true colors of Mars. At first, NASA had been stubbornly defending the color of the dark, rust-red pictures of Mars, which showed the planet as having a pink-colored sky. But after the mainstream press picked up the story, NASA scientists could see that the questions about the color were not going to go away. Eventually, NASA began to say that the color in the Mars Rover pictures was "approximate true color." Then on Jan. 28, a couple of web pages appeared on the Mars Rover web site which began making excuses, saying that it is difficult to get the color right. "Getting the colors right is not an exact science. Giving an approximate view of what we'd see if we were there involves an artistic, visionary element as well…" Said Dr. James Bell, Lead Scientist for the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) Team. After a few weeks of tough questions from reporters, Dr. Bell finally caved in under the pressure. When he was confronted once again about the colors of Mars during a Feb.10 New York Times interview, Bell finally said: "We just made a mistake. It's really just a mess-up." Immediately after the admission by Dr. James Bell that the color in the Mars Rover pictures was much too red, very few new color pictures appeared on the Rover web site. For the next two weeks, all of the new pictures showing the Martian sky were posted in black and white and some of the new pictures showing the surface of Mars began to reveal normal, Earth-like colors with a lot of detail. At this point in time (March 2, 2004), NASA is still posting very few color pictures on the Mars Rover web site. Somebody at NASA has a lot of explaining to do.

NASA Mars Rover Link:

True color from a NASA photo specialist:

Keith Laney is a digital image processing specialist with the NASA-Ames Research Center. Laney has shown how badly NASA has miscalibrated the color in the murky, rust-red pictures posted on the Mars Rover web site. He has many, re-calibrated color Mars Rover pictures on his own web site, which show an impressive amount of detail. The pictures also show that Mars does not have a red sky.

Spirit Rover Images:

Opportunity Rover Images:

Color Calibration:

Home Page:

Keith Laney is currently supplying imaging enhancements for the NASA-Ames' MOC (Mars Orbiter Camera) MER (Mars Exploration Rover) 2003 Landing Sites Project and the NASA Marsoweb Program. He has also done photo-optimizing work for NASA's Mars Global Surveyor Mission. Laney's article about Processing for MOC Images is featured on NASA's Mars Exploration web site:

Has NASA been trying to avoid controversy?

If NASA had shown us a Mars in 1976 that looked just like a desert area here on Earth, the reaction of the public would have produced many problems. Since the "Red Planet" didn't turn out to be so red after all, NASA would have turned red with embarrassment had they not changed the color of the pictures to match the planet's reputation of being extremely red in color. We would have also had the obvious conspiracy theories going around, saying that the Viking Mission was being faked and that the lander was not actually on Mars, but was instead taking pictures in the desert somewhere on Earth, like in the movie "Capricorn One." If the pictures being sent back from Mars were to make the planet look too hospitable and Earth-like, the general population would have automatically got the impression that some evidence of biological life, either past or present, would probably be found there. The result would have been speculation, controversy, religious debate and a public relations nightmare for NASA that would continue on to this day. Might NASA be trying to mask the details of the pictures? If so, exactly what don't they want us to see? Are there areas of green vegetation or maybe strange anomalies? Things that we would be shocked to see on Mars?

At recent news conferences, NASA scientists have actually shed a lot of light on the subject. Professor Steven Squyres, NASA's lead scientist in charge of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, describes Mars as a dead planet that is completely inhospitable to any kind of life. In fact, he does not welcome any questions from reporters concerning the possibility of finding life of any kind on Mars, even microbes or algae. When faced with such questions during recent interviews, he has replied in a hostile tone saying, that we are not looking for life on Mars and that the Rovers are not equipped to detect anything biological. He says that the goal of the Mars Rover Mission is to determine whether Mars was ever capable of supporting life in the past, by looking for any geological signs that liquid water once existed there, millions or billions of years ago. Squyres complains that people are projecting the idea of the Earth and its ability to support life onto Mars. That situation would only be made worse if the Mars Rover pictures were to make the planet look as life-friendly as the Earth, with a clear blue sky. NASA says that the exploration of Mars is only part of a much larger objective, which is to learn more about the history and formation of the universe, our solar system and the Earth. At this point in time, NASA is not trying to promote the colonization of Mars. Anything that ambitious is not likely to occur for decades. So, it does not present any disadvantage for NASA if the public believes that Mars is an inhospitable looking, red hell.

The Europeans are showing us the true colors of Mars:

Color photos from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, are showing green areas that may indicate the presence of plant life, at the Spirit Rover's landing site, in Gusev Crater (see photo below). If NASA were to properly calibrate the color on the Mars Rover pictures, we might be able to get a better, close-up look at some of this possible plant life on Mars. Finding vegetation on Mars, such as algae, would be finding life. We may be looking at the bottom of a food chain and if so, the potential for finding more complex life there could be real.

ESA Photo

ESA Photo Link:

During a recent interview with Linda Howe (, Michael McKay, Flight Operations Director of the European Space Agency, made the following comments about the possible discovery of vegetation on Mars: "It's a big question that we as a human race ask ourselves: are we the only planet in the entire universe that supports life? It would question so many things on a theological basis, on a religious basis, on a perspective of what are we as human beings? It goes through the whole fiber of our own perception of what we are as the human race. Just to find life somewhere else on another planet would be so earth-shattering." Mars may have been much like the Earth millions or billions of years ago, with an atmosphere capable of supporting abundant life. If any solid evidence of life were to be discovered there, including photographic evidence, the news would have an unpredictable effect on society.

Mars probes have revived the theological debate:

To learn for the first time in the history of mankind, that life of any kind actually exists outside of the Earth, would bring about a sudden and significant change in our perception of the universe. The discovery of microbes or simple plant life on another planet would obviously not be as shocking as the discovery of more complex or even intelligent life. But the potential for upsetting portions of the religious community is real. These theological issues already came up in 1996, when NASA announced that a meteorite from Mars, discovered in Antarctica, contained fossils of ancient microorganisms. This controversial meteorite became the topic of serious religious debate, because for the first time in history there appeared to be proof that life has existed outside of the Earth. Most of the religious community has not been deeply effected by this, because upon examination of their doctrines, they determined that such a small form of extraterrestrial life would not conflict with their beliefs. There are those who feel that in the Bible, God has told us everything that He wanted us to know about the universe, and if He has chosen not to tell us about life on other planets, then He has a good reason. Others found this meteorite to be more threatening to their beliefs and sought to prove that the fossils from Mars were not real.

Theological issues:

The discovery of life on another planet, even microbes or algae, would be shocking to those who hold certain strong traditional religious beliefs about God, the Bible and Creation. This is because it does not fit the rigid concept of reality that has been instilled in them by their religious institutions and handed down through the generations. Recent Gallup polls show that most Americans believe in God, approximately half of all Americans believe that God created man about 10,000 years ago and about one-third of all Americans believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. The following beliefs are common among those who embrace a literal interpretation of the Bible: The Bible is the perfect, complete and infallible, Holy Word of God. Everything we need to know is in there. The book of Genesis gives a complete and accurate account of the origins and history of the universe, as told to us by God Himself. Because the book of Genesis does not say that God created life on any planets other than the Earth, He did not. The universe was made especially for mankind. The Earth is the center of Creation and the universe. God made the Sun, Moon and stars, ("lights in the firmament of the heaven"), so that the Earth could have day and night, seasons and years and they have no other purpose. There is no other life "out there." If there were, the Bible would say so. "God said it, I believe it, that settles it!" "Faith is the unconditional belief in what God says." There is within many of these believers, a complete unwillingness to accept any other possible concept of reality. It is all seen as indisputable fact, regardless of the findings of mainstream science. Creationists for example, firmly believe that God created the Earth in six, twenty-four hour days. There are Creationist scientists and PhDs that have devoted their lives to supporting this belief.

For those who hold such beliefs, the discovery of life on another planet would be threatening. The initial reaction upon hearing this news would be to defend their faith. The discovery would be immediately denied and serious attempts would be made to disprove it. Many would believe that the whole thing is an Atheist plot designed to win the argument for evolution. (Scientists generally accept the theory of evolution, which to some Bible believers is synonymous with Atheism). Then, there are those who would believe that any extraterrestrial life would have to be evil, because it is contrary to the Word. But for those who would accept the idea of such a discovery, it would raise some very troubling questions: Why is life beyond the Earth not mentioned in the book of Genesis? What else is not mentioned in the Bible? Are the Earth and mankind really the center and focus of Creation? Is the Bible really complete and infallible? Would it be abandoning our faith if we were to adjust our beliefs to fit the findings of science? All of this confusion would cause a lot of people to feel uncertain about our place in the universe and perhaps, to even doubt their faith. This whole situation would cause the re-evaluation of religious doctrines and the unavoidable differences in interpretation would most likely cause some congregations to divide in disagreement. (Of course, there are plenty of Atheists that would derive a great deal of satisfaction from watching all of this).

Science, Religion and Politics:

In the scientific community, it is generally believed that if life exists on any other planets, it has emerged there on its own from lifeless molecules and evolved over millions of years into sophisticated life forms. Theoretically, under the right conditions, once all the essential requirements are met, life will begin to appear on its own. Those who are involved in the fields of science and science education are well aware that modern science is a genuine threat to Religious Fundamentalism in America. Scientists and Creationists have been at battle for the last 100 years over the evolution vs. creation issue. Today's scientists are saying that a new climate has emerged under the Bush Administration, where a fiercely moral approach to science, led by the Religious Right, is spreading worry like never before through the nation's laboratories and lecture halls. Frustrated scientists and science educators are walking on eggshells in the current "culture war" climate. In fact, many science professionals have become discouraged and are now less productive because of it. For example: A number of Creationist students have launched lawsuits against their science instructors after being required to state, contrary to their beliefs, that there is a scientific explanation for the origin of the species. In one such case, John Ashcroft's Department of Justice became involved: A Catholic biology professor at Texas Tech received a call from government lawyers, demanding that he hand over numerous documents and then threatened to make the minor local dispute into a high-profile federal case.

One only has to listen to the rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalist groups to know exactly where they stand on the issue: "Those who promote evolution and humanism are enemies of the Gospel. To deny creation is to deny the very existence of God. It's just another attempt by Atheists to control the minds of kids. By fighting evolution, we're saving souls. We're going to take back our country for God. We are appointed for the defense of the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5: 'For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.' I read the end of the Bible…We win!"

Although it is hard to predict just how the religious world would react to the news if life were discovered on Mars, journalists have been predicting that the religious community will be deeply effected. Articles on the subject have predicted that Fundamentalists and Creationists will be "shocked," "upset" and "dismayed." That religious believers may be "demoralized" by the discovery. That it will "rock the world of science and philosophy." Whether these dire predictions might come true or not is impossible to say, but because religion is such a notoriously sensitive area, it would make sense for our government to take the necessary precautions in order to prevent any serious, widespread religious upset from occurring. Another concern is the diverse number of religious extremist groups in America, many of which are fanatical and unstable. One thing that these groups all seem to have in common is the fanatical belief that the end of the world has already begun, especially after 9/11 and with the ongoing War on Terrorism. Experts who monitor doomsday predictions say that new apocalyptic scenarios are popping up with intensity. As today's science moves forward at an unrelenting pace, paranoid religious fanatics see the latest developments in science as America turning against God like never before. There is within these groups, a militant distrust of modern science and it is all seen as a sure sign of the end times. With hot-button issues like, abortion, cloning, gay marriage, obscenity in broadcasting, evolution taught in schools, gun control, The New World Order, separation of church and state issues, etc., for NASA scientists to say that life exists on Mars would be adding insult to injury and fanning the flames of religious hysteria. Science professionals that do not conform to Fundamentalist ideals for morals in science are considered to be enemies of God, meddling in forbidden areas and spreading Atheism. With visions of Armageddon, the Anti-Christ and Revelation prophecies coming true, what will it take to push Bible-thumping, anti-government militias over the edge? It goes without saying that the number of Mars and UFO cults would explode at an unprecedented rate with an announcement of life being discovered on Mars.

Our more visible public figures, especially those in elected or appointed positions, know that it is unwise to offend any religious groups. Especially those religious groups that are represented by outspoken and powerful political activist organizations. To do so would be political suicide. Politicians want to win elections and cannot afford to alienate themselves from these powerful religious voter demographic groups. To make a statement that seems to discredit the sacred belief in creation would be far too controversial in today's political climate. Such an offensive statement would be met with religious outrage. We cannot forget those unfortunate public figures that have been forced to step down from positions of authority after making an overly controversial statement. It is obvious that Bush cannot afford to upset his Christian-conservative voter base and have them turn against him. Since Bush is promoting the exploration of Mars, any photographs or statements from NASA that suggest the existence of life on Mars could result in political fallout from the Religious Right. That is a political disaster that the Bush Administration needs to prevent from occurring if they are going to remain in power.

In light of the current political climate it seems obvious why Prof. Steven Squyres of JPL has stated repeatedly, in no uncertain terms, that life or liquid water cannot exist anywhere on Mars and that we do not know if life has ever existed there in the past. He has been very careful not to speculate on the possibility of life on Mars and has made his position on the issue very clear. If NASA does decide to throw caution to the wind and talk openly about the possibility of life on Mars, Bush would be wise to distance himself from the space agency, especially in this election year.

Discovering Intelligent Life Beyond the Earth:

The discovery of simple plant life on another planet would increase the possibility, that more complex and even intelligent life may exist somewhere beyond the Earth. This concept opens up a great unknown, presenting new uncertainties about God's Creation and where mankind might fit in the big picture of the universe. While there are religions that have chosen to remain open-minded and have not taken a definitive stance on the issue, there are those that have their minds made up already. Evangelist Jerry Falwell said, "They can spend a trillion dollars looking for it (intelligent life) but they'll never find it. The Bible makes clear that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and Man" and that his work on Earth was entirely for the children of Adam and Eve. "But if they found intelligent life, meaning human life, it would violate everything we know and believe as Christians," he said, adding that God would not create life, as he created Adam and Eve, without providing for its redemption from sin. In a 1997 broadcast of The 700 Club, Evangelist Pat Robertson used the news of the Mars Pathfinder landing to launch into a hostile condemnation of anyone who entertains the existence of extraterrestrials or UFOs. He said that if such things exist, they are simply demons trying to lead people away from Christ and that people who believe in space aliens should be put to death by stoning, according to God's Word.

Interesting note: In 1633 the astronomer Galileo was imprisoned for life by the Church, for promoting the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The Church still believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth because of passages in the Bible and the belief that the Bible cannot err. Galileo was imprisoned as a heretic because it was believed that his claims were contrary to Holy Scripture. It is said that what Galileo observed in the heavens was so disturbing for some officials of the Church that they refused to even look through his telescope. They reasoned that the Devil was capable of making anything appear in the telescope, so it was best not to look through it. Not until 1981 did the Roman Catholic Church officially forgive Galileo. Today, the Vatican has two observatories and five telescopes.

The Brookings Report:

See Report Title Page: Here

The "Brookings Report," is a study that was prepared for NASA by The Brookings Institution in 1961. This several-hundred-page report, commissioned by Congress, recommended that NASA withhold from the public, any disturbing information about the discovery of life on other planets, in order to prevent the possible disintegration of society. Due to the efforts of scientists at the time, to make radio contact with other intelligent life in the universe and the fact that astronauts were beginning to venture out into space, Congress felt that a study should be done to assess the social ramifications of disclosing any discovery of life in outer space. In fact, the present day policy of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), a group of radio astronomers searching for radio signals from space, is to first notify government authorities before making any announcement that they have received "contact" from space. According to Brookings, the discovery of life or artifacts on other planets would be shocking to many Fundamentalists who hold certain deeply felt religious beliefs, especially those within the less-educated and anti-science groups. The report warns that it would be unwise for NASA to disclose any information that could undermine the basic belief systems that hold our society together. For example: After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, people had their faith to cling to as a way of surviving the most traumatic event ever experienced by America. If many people were to ever doubt the validity of the Bible and lose faith in their religion, much of our population would be losing their ability to cope.

To at least a portion of society, the announcement that intelligent life has been discovered in space would be as shocking as the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The concern is that if a great number of people were to become too upset, preoccupied and disoriented, they may no longer see the point of going to work or school, following the rules or participating in society. Such an unprecedented disruption to society would bring chaos, social unrest, anarchy and economic collapse. And perhaps, even the disintegration of society as we know it. To prevent this kind of social collapse, Brookings recommends that NASA's policy should be basically, don't rock the boat, what they don't know won't hurt them.

You may recall the profound effect that astronomer Percival Lowell had on society, when he announced in 1894, that "canals" seen on Mars were a sign of intelligent life on the planet. With the publication of Lowell's books about the probable existence of life on Mars, the planet had become a source of fear and paranoia. In 1898, H.G. Wells, inspired by Lowell's writings, unleashed his book, "The War of the Worlds," causing the imagination of the general public to get completely carried away in a frenzy of Mars paranoia. Fear and uncertainty swept through Europe and America, changing the consciousness of the world forever. That is an event that our government would not want to see repeated. If intelligent life or ancient artifacts were discovered on another planet, according to Brookings, the impact on society could be devastating. It is probably no coincidence that Admiral Bobby Inman, former director of the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) is head of the JPL Oversight Committee. (JPL is NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech whose scientists are operating the Mars Rover Missions). To get an idea of how the public might react if the news of an actual UFO landing were to be announced, we can go back to Oct. 31, 1938, where the radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" caused thousands of people to flee their homes in terror. In today's world, government officials are often reluctant to disclose any disturbing information to the public out of fear that it will lead to huge economic losses. Because fear and uncertainty have always had a negative impact on the economy, it is common practice to avoid upsetting people unnecessarily during a crisis situation, if at all possible. It is for this reason that we are rarely given specific details during national terror-alert warnings and we are told to go on with our normal lives.

The space program is not just about science:

It is important for us to keep in mind that from its very conception, the U.S. space program has never been purely scientific in nature. In the words of renowned theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor at the City University of New York, "the U.S. space effort is a deformed scientific program that was born out of the Cold War and twisted by the demands of anti-communism," with the Pentagon still secretly "in the driver's seat." The politics of space goes all the way back to the beginning of the space race, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth in 1957. It should also be noted that the race to the Moon in the 1960s was actually part of America's fight to win the Cold War. President Kennedy wanted to send the message to the world that the United States, a democratic society, was superior to the communist Soviet Union. Although the Cold War is over, today's U.S. space program continues to serve as a tool for propaganda and national pride. The primary reason for President George W. Bush's announcement that we are going to send a manned expedition to Mars by 2019, is the new space race. Now that China has put an astronaut in orbit and has also announced plans to send astronauts to the Moon, the U.S. has joined the race once again, to stay ahead of the rest of the world in space exploration. The Bush Administration's aim is to stay ahead of the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese as part of maintaining the superpower status of the United States. (And besides that, this is an election year). Even though NASA was conceived as a "civilian" space organization, the agency has had an ongoing partnership with the Department of Defense. In fact, due to some of the new military space initiatives, joint research and development projects between NASA and the Pentagon could threaten NASA's status as a civilian agency, dedicated to science and space exploration. Only in a perfect world, could we have a U.S. space agency whose function is to produce pure science. Like any other agency that has to go to the Federal Government to get its funding, NASA's operation has always been plagued by politics, government interference, budget caps, bureaucracy and red tape. And because NASA has been steeped in politics from its inception, it would be naive for us to assume that its discoveries in space could never be subject to government censorship or manipulation. Many Americans would be surprised to find that NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, appointed by President George W. Bush, has no background whatsoever in the fields of space or science and because of his lack of knowledge in those fields, decisions at the top of NASA are often made without competent scientific input. For example: It is O'Keefe's lack of appreciation for science that is at the root of his incompetent and arbitrary decision to abandon the Hubble Space Telescope, the finest scientific instrument ever to be devised in the history of astronomy.

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