Why does Mars seem to loom so large in popular culture?
One of the best answers I’ve read is from Isaac Asimov’s introduction to an edition of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. He basically suggests that much of our fascination with Mars and the notion of life on Mars has to do with a matter of translation—or a mistranslation—of the Italian word “canali.”
In 1877, when the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli noted markings on Mars’s surface, dark lines that seemed to crisscross each other, he called them channels. The Italian word for channels is “canali,” and this somehow became “canals” in English rather than channels.
Source: Why is science fiction so obsessed with Mars? – Futurity