The Politics of Life on Mars

On Dec.07.12

Chris Carberry

Artemis Westenberg

Speculation about life on Mars has been rampant this fall. Rumors that the Mars Curiosity Rover may have found evidence of life on Mars have surfaced twice in the past few weeks. The most recent rumor started when a member of the Curiosity team was quoted as saying that they had collected data that was “Earthshaking” and “one for the history books.” This led to a barrage of rumors that Curiosity may have found organic material on Mars and some people even speculated that life had been found. The reality gave no confirmation of life, but the NASA press conference on December 3, 2012 did reveal that some simple organics were found. They were not sure if they were indigenous to Mars, if they may have been residual organics from Earth, or if they had been deposited from other space objects (meteorites) impacting Mars.

Curiosity’s mission should give us the answer to this eventually as it is scheduled to continue for at least another 18 months and was recently “officially” extended indefinitely. This gives Curiosityample time to sample soil and rocks in some highly promising locations within Gale Crater on Mars. If organics exist there, Curiosity should know within the next few months.

Although Curiosity is not designed to verify life, we are left to wonder — if Curiosity did discover life on Mars, what would be the impact of that discovery to the general public and to the future of human and robotic exploration of Mars?

One thing is certain, it would have a substantial impact, but the nature of that impact could move in many different directions. A popular belief is that if we found life on Mars this would accelerate our goals of sending humans to Mars as well as our robotic efforts, and also might transform our religious and societal beliefs. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Read more: The Politics of Life on Mars- ExploreMars.

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