It would seem the search for extra terrestrial intelligent life began in ernest a lot earlier than we have previously thought with projects like SETI. And, the Red Planet appears to have been the prime suspect.
A telegram has been discovered, sent by the Chief of Naval Operations Edward W. Eberle in 1924. It instructs the United States Navy to listen for radio transmissions from the planet Mars. This is what it says:
“NAVY DESIRES COOPERATE ASTRONOMERS WHO BELIEVE POSSIBLE THAT MARS MAY ATTEMPT COMMUNICATION BY RADIO WAVES WITH THIS PLANET WHILE THEY ARE NEAR TOGETHER THIS END ALL SHORE RADIO STATIONS WILL ESPECIALLY NOTE AND REPORT ANY ELECTRICAL PHENOMENON UNUSUAL CHARACTER AND WILL COVER AS WIDE BAND FREQUENCIES AS POSSIBLE FROM 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FIRST TO 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FOURTH WITHOUT INTERFERRING WITH TRAFFIC”
This might sound ludicrous now, but at the time it was within the realm of serious science that life existed on Mars, because we simply did not know. There was much talk of canal-like structures on the sureface of the planet as seen by the telescopes of the time, and the wonders imagined by that first great surge of Victorian science fiction still fired the minds of many. The canals were later refuted, when optical instruments improved and also when unmanned probes were sent to Mars.
It is easy to forget how far we went from communiques such as this in the 20’s to all out space exploration a few short decades later. A great reminder of more innocent times and a reminder of how much we might still be naive about.