Mars seems so far away, even though it's been close to people for so long.

Even before spaceflight was possible, the red dot in the night sky captured human fascination as reflected in stories. Throughout , Mars has been embraced in myths, religion, literature and cinema. It has been an icon for nations, a spot on the calendar, an erotic symbol, a god of warfare and the potential home of little green men.

On Thursday, NASA is scheduled to launch a to Mars to learn more about this mysterious rock orbiting near Earth. The rocket carries a rover, Perseverance, that will collect samples and conduct tests to help determine if the planet ever harbored life in the past or could accommodate human visitors in the future.

"Mars has filtered into our unconscious cultural matrix," said Brandon Bourgeois, assistant professor of classics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "Mars has always been with us, in how we conceptualize gender and its roles, militarism and pop culture."

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