I’m cynical about this. It only took two Apollo missions before people tuned out and watched reruns of *Leave it to Beaver" rather than follow the most momentous engineering and exploration triumph in history.
We used to have debates about how the world would react if we really discovered life existed off Earth. Some thought it would cause a religious panic, others thought the world would change in various ways. We’d become more humble, more introspective, whatever.
Then during the Clinton administration there was an announcement that a meteorite from Mars had fossilized bacteria in it. Life on another planet! The reaction from the public was ‘meh’. Most probably didn’t even know about it, and those that did just shrugged. Later the story turned out to be false, but for a while people believed it - Bill Clinton even held a press conference announcing it - and no one much cared.
I predict fhat the first Mars mission will get its share of human interest stories before the launch, then everyone will tune in for the launch in case it explodes. Within a week or two into the voyage average people will stop caring about updates until there is a failure or disaster. If all goes smoothly, they’ll then tune in for the landing (in case it crashes), and there will be some interest in historical events like first boot on the ground, etc.
But once the exploration enters the mundane work of science, people will stop caring, very quickly. The biggest noise we will hear will be from the crowd complaining about exploration while there are still problems to solve on Earth. If it’s a NASA mission, future mission budgets will be cut and this will turn into a flag and footprints mission not to be repeated for decades, if ever.
Like I said, I am a pessimist when it comes to public support of space. That’s because I grew up with Apollo and we all thought we were just at the tip of the great adventure in space, only to discover fhat we’d be stuck in LEO forever. If you told people in 1970 that after Apollo we wouldn’t put another foot on the moon for at least 50 years, they would have thought you were nuts.
If we go to Mars to stay, it will be because of boring commercial interests, not because of a glorious international governmental cooperation boondoggle. Because once fhat stops being useful to politicians it will stop.
But we aren 't going to Mars to stay. There’s nothing there to justify it. The Moon is a much better bet for the first permanent base other than in LEO. You might actually be able to make money there. But the public won’t care anyway.
As for history, I think the moon landing will be much more significant, because a Mats landing to most people is just an incremental step while the Moon represented the very first time we left Earth and stepped onto another heavenly body, and because by the time we get there we are going to have massive archives of high definition footage of the surface of Mars so we’re unlikely to be awed by those first images. They’ll look the ones we’ve seen for decades, except with a human in them.