Head of U.S. National Space Council thought we could breathe on Mars

September 10, 2014

Space

Former Vice President Dan Quayle was a little too eager about the space program.

“Mars is essentially in the same orbit [as Earth]….Mars is somewhat the same distance from the sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.”

– Former Vice President Dan Quayle in 1989, speaking after George Bush Sr. announced the launching of the Space Exploration Initiative

George Bush Sr. asked this gentleman to head the National Space Council.

Let’s make a list.

1. Earth is usually about 147 to 152 million miles from the sun, whereas Mars ranges from about 206 to 249 million miles from the sun. 100 million miles is quite a bit different.

2. Water on Mars is mostly ice, and and liquid water during warmer months is mostly inaccessible. 

3. Presence of water doesn’t imply presence of an atmosphere with oxygen.

4. Presence of oxygen doesn’t mean we could breathe. Earth’s atmosphere is about 21% oxygen, but about 78% nitrogen, with other trace amounts of other gases. Changing the amount of oxygen slightly makes life difficult for humans. 

Mars has only 50% the Earth’s diameter, only 11% of its mass, and only 38% of its gravity, meaning it couldn’t maintain an atmosphere.

It is doubtful this statement caused harm for any individuals, although it may have shaken their confidence in our government’s ability to work with scientists.

The one upside is he may have gotten people very excited for adventures on Mars in Total Recall, which came out the next year in 1990!

recall

(Sadly, not based on a true story)

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

View all posts by jslachman381

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