1899 | Colorado Springs

Life on Mars?

Nikola Tesla imagines a dialogue.

I can never forget the first sensations I experienced when it dawned upon me that I had observed something possibly of incalculable consequences to mankind.

I felt as though I were present at the birth of a new knowledge or the revelation of a great truth. Even now, at times, I can vividly recall the incident, and see my apparatus as though it were actually before me. My first observations positively terrified me, as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural, and I was alone in my laboratory at night.

It was some time afterward when the thought flashed upon my mind that the disturbances I had observed might be due to an intelligent control. Although I could not decipher their meaning, it was impossible for me to think of them as having been entirely accidental. The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. 

At the present stage of progress, there would be no insurmountable obstacle in constructing a machine capable of conveying a message to Mars, nor would there be any great difficulty in recording signals transmitted to us by the inhabitants of that planet, if they be skilled electricians. Communication once established, even in the simplest way, as by a mere interchange of numbers, the progress toward more intelligible communication would be rapid. Absolute certitude as to the receipt and interchange of messages would be reached as soon as we could respond with the number “four,” say, in reply to the signal “one, two, three.” The martians, or the inhabitants of whatever planet had signaled to us, would understand at once that we had caught their message across the gulf of space and had sent back a response. 

What a tremendous stir this would make in the world! How soon will it come?


Nikola Tesla

From “Talking with the Planets.” In early 1899 Jacob Astor gave the inventor funds to further develop electric-light technology; Tesla used the money instead to leave New York, build a huge Colorado laboratory, and begin research into high-frequency electricity and wireless transmission. Some came to believe the signals Tesla heard in this experiment were actually from Guglielmo Marconi’s radio device, which was being tested at the time in the Atlantic. Later research showed, however, that Tesla may have heard pulses emitted by Jupiter’s moon Io.