Schiaparelli And Martian Gremlins


As we count down to Halloween, the subject of gremlins has come up in conversation.  This time the connection is with the tragic loss of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli on Mars.

Prof David Southwood, a space scientist at Imperial College London, noted that Mars missions seem particularly prone to mishap. “If one were superstitious, one would say it is a return of the Mars gremlin.” However, he added that the failed landing attempt should not detract from the more important element of the mission, which was always intended to be orbiter’s measurements of trace gases, such as methane, which might indicate the presence of alien life.

“Time and again the US Mars program faced failure and, like Robert the Bruce, straightforwardly went on with the task of overcoming setback,” he said. “Space exploration is tough. As long as we believe in its societal worth, Europe needs to do the same.”

Are there Martian Gremlins?  A Gremlin is

A gremlin is an imaginary creature that causes trouble in devices and systems of all kinds. During the Second World War, the term was used by British airmen to refer to ongoing trouble with aircraft in spite of mechanics’ best efforts. Gremlins sometimes appear today in computer systems and networks.

“Although gremlins never do their dirty work in plain sight, a gremlin is usually portrayed as a small troll-like creature. No one has ever seen one and caught it in the act of sabotaging an aircraft, radio transmitter, computer, robot, or other system. The instant any human looks for a gremlin, it vanishes, although evidence of its mischief may remain. Gremlins are particularly adept at causing intermittent malfunctions, which have been the bane of technicians and engineers for centuries.”

Margaret Rouse

I don’t know if H. G. Wells knew about gremlins.  However, in his opening of his masterpiece, he wrote

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.” H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds

Another literary adventure is Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter series. Carter did not find Martian Gremlins, but he found an assortment of people and creatures on a war weary and dying world.

In Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles the gremlins are earth men.  The Martians are not monsters, but the ever reaching human need for conquest is the true gremlin on Mars.

Turning our gaze back to the third planet, our orb hanging in the infinite majesty is plagued by gremlins like the ancient harpies.  Harpies hovered around Strophades, two Greek islands.

However, the earth gremlins are like the wind touching every land.  The human gremlins of poverty, inequality, suffering, climatic upheavals and war touch many people, especially women and children, each day on this planet traversing the cosmos.

The earth gremlins are as unmerciful as the ancient harpies.  The Argonauts of old are not present to combat the gremlins of today.

However, we are. We are the Argonauts of today, and we must engage the Halloween spirits which seek to destroy human lives with their gremlins.

Our world is on the verge of a rapid descent to Tartarus.  We must work together as a race to save our planet before the gremlin winds are too overwhelming to push them back to the primordial seas from which they arose.

G. D. Williams © 2016

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Martian Gremlin Claims New Victim

By Richard A. Kerr: Dec. 6, 1999 , 6:00 PM

The failure adds another mission to a dismal record of missions to the Red Planet. Since 1960, the United States, the USSR, and then Russia have launched 29 missions toward Mars, only eight of which could be called real successes. The snakebit Russians are batting zero for 16. Until this year, however, U.S. scientists seemed to have largely dodged the gremlin, having scored 8 successes out of 11 attempts. But then in September, confusion over English and metric units doomed Mars Climate Orbiter (ScienceNOW, 10 November). And with the Mars Polar Lander (MPL) missing, the United States can count just two successes in the last five tries.

War of the Worlds

Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter of Mars™ Series

Ray Bradbury


Carl Sagan Talks About Mars (1982)