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NASA plans to colonize Mars

NASA may not be planning to put a human on Mars until the 2030s, but the agency’s top scientist said colonizing the planet is a key part of its agenda – as well as its search for extraterrestrial life.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, NASA’s chief scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan emphasized that the quest to find alien life is focused primarily on our own solar system, where potential targets include Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Titan. In order to most effectively survey Mars for signs of life, though, Stofan said putting humans on the ground, and establishing a presence there, is a big priority.

In response to a question about whether or not NASA plans to bring back astronauts that reach the Red Planet, Stofan said, “We would definitely plan on bringing them back. We like to talk about pioneering Mars rather than just exploring Mars, because once we get to Mars we will set up some sort of permanent presence.”

NASA has expressed such interest before, most recently proposing to send a small greenhouse to the planet in order to experiment with cultivating plant life – something that would be essential to establishing a permanent colony in the future.

Although Mars doesn’t currently seem to be a great habitat for existing life, Stofan argued it’s still possible things may be living beneath the surface – something that can only be explored effectively by humans, not robots.

“Humans can actually read a landscape, go through a lot of rocks – crack them open, throw them, pick up the next one,” she told the Guardian. “Rovers are great, they do amazing science, but it is a lot more tedious process – they go much less far than a human can cover in a day. Having humans on the surface is how I think we are going to be able to demonstrate totally conclusively that life did evolve on Mars.”

Currently, the American space agency is planning to put a human on Mars in 2035 – a plan that depends on the successful completion of a few different missions, as well as stable funding over the course of the next couple of decades. As RT reported earlier this month, a new study by the US National Research Council found that under NASA’s current budget trajectory, reaching the Red Planet would be unlikely.

“Absent a very fundamental change in the nation’s way of doing business, it is not realistic to believe that we can achieve the consensus goal of reaching Mars,” said Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and co-chair of the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Human Spaceflight.

Stofan downplayed budgetary concerns, however, saying the agency has received “extremely favorable budgets in the last few years” and that tight budgets have inspired innovation at NASA. She also noted that the agency’s asteroid mission – which involves capturing an asteroid and redirecting its orbit around the moon so that astronauts can land on it – is all intended to test technology that would be used on a future Mars mission.

Meanwhile, the contamination of either Earth or Mars remains “a huge concern.”

“First, of all you wouldn’t want to bring any weird microbes from Mars to the Earth that could potentially be harmful to people here,” she said. “In the future when we have Mars samples come back, they will go through an incredible procedure basically equivalent to an ebola level quarantine facility to make sure they are not going to contaminate Earth. Then there is contamination of Mars. We are looking for life on Mars so we don’t want to carry microbes with us, ‘discover them’ and declare victory.”

Looking elsewhere, the chief scientist added that a visit to Europa is “clearly our next step,” with Titan not far behind.

“Over the last few years we have started to formulate the next mission to [Jupiter’s moon] Europa – we know there is an ocean under that icy crust. There are plumes of water coming out of the cracks in the south polar region. There’s orange gunk all over the surface – what the heck is that stuff? … We have [also] flown the Cassini spacecraft through the geysers erupting off [Saturn’s moon] Enceladus – we know there are organics in those water plumes but we don’t know how complex those organics are.”

Just last week, NASA scientists unveiled a new plan that would allow the agency to send a quadcopter drone to Titan in order to search for life. The drone would be capable of flying over Titan’s landscape and seas, collect samples, and deliver the samples to a nuclear-powered “mothership” – either a larger lander or a balloon – where it can recharge its batteries for another flight. Researchers are continuing to move forward with the idea, but such a mission would also be decades away from becoming a reality. No launch would occur until the 2040s.


NASA Curiosity Rover Detects No Methane on Mars - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

This was a bit sad for astrobiology (I think a lot of us were hoping to find subsurface methanogens on Mars), but in the end I count it as a win, because it demonstrates that science will find the truth, and not just what everyone wants to hear. It also shows us that remote sensing can only tell you so much; surface- (or orbit-) based observations are really important. Unfortunately, remote sensing is all we have to go on at the moment for most exoplanets, but maybe now we can find out what went wrong in the original study, and improve our detection methods.

Life on Earth originally came from Mars, new study suggests | ExtremeTech

OK, I’m only going to say a few things about this:

1. This was the first report of this that I found (I wasn’t at the conference). I’m going to post a slightly more descriptive link from paleblublog (this one isn’t too bad, but the contractions made me cringe).

2. Steve Benner knows his shit. He is a very talented chemist. He also thinks outside the box pretty regularly, so it’s not surprising to hear him propose this. He’s also been kind of obsessed with boron for a long time, but not without reason.


Manned Missions to Mars: Is the Moon Really a Stepping Stone? |

The moon may be more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone on humanity’s path to the Red Planet, one prominent researcher says.

The perceived need to develop lunar infrastructure and resources first could push a manned Mars mission far off into the future, said Harley Thronson, senior scientist for advanced concepts in the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

And if putting boots on the Red Planet in the next few decades is indeed the top priority of the international human spaceflight community, then making a prolonged stopover on the moon beforehand runs counter to the spirit and history of exploration, he added.

[Read more]


Incredible Technology: How to Find Life on Mars

Finding life on Mars isn’t easy.

While NASA’s Curiosity rover found that Mars could have once supported life at some point in the ancient past, scientists still haven’t been able to detect a definitive sign that either single cellular or multicellular life once roamed the Red Planet.

"Suppose we landed on Mars and we saw a skyscraper, a huge building 10 stories high or something," NASA Ames Research Center astrobiologist Chris McKay said. “It would be clear that that was not just a pile of rocks even if the building was abandoned. Biologically, there’s an equivalent. Things like proteins and DNA and enzymes are the biological equivalent of skyscrapers. They’re huge, complex molecules that were assembled for a particular purpose."

Finding life with a new rover
NASA officials recently announced that the space agency’s new rover set for launch in 2020 will look for evidence of life in the Red Planet’s past.

Scientists aiding in the development of the rover have said that researchers will have a better chance of detecting indicators of past life on Mars than finding microbes today..

"To go and look for simple organisms, or not-so-simple organisms, that are living within that toxic, harsh environment we just think is a foolish investment of the technology at this time," Jack Mustard, a professor at Brown University and chairman of the 2020 rover mission’s Science Definition Team told reporters last week in a news conference.

NASA scientists have also recommended that the new rover collect rock samples that can be saved and eventually brought back to Earth on a future mission. Returning samples to Earth will allow scientists to perform advanced experiments with sensitive instruments found in a laboratory.

"That [sample return] would be an enormous step forward in our astrobiological exploration of Mars," Cornell University scientist Alberto Fairen wrote in an email to

Destination Mars (Video): NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover Science Plan

Life already found?
Some scientists contend that signs of life were already found by the first American lander to touchdown on the Red Planet. Viking 1 — which landed on Mars in 1976 — performed a life-detection experiment that many scientists agree did not uncover life.

Recently, some scientists have expressed doubt about those conclusions. Some contend that it is possible that Viking 1 destroyed the organic matter the spacecraft was designed to detect or that its instruments weren’t sensitive enough to find the organics the researchers were looking for.

McKay, however, doesn’t think Viking 1 found life. The surface of Mars is too zapped by radiation to preserve organics, McKay said, therefore the Viking sample — gathered from the surface of the planet — would not have played host to any life-affirming material.

"It seems from the results we have from Curiosity and from previous missions and also from laboratory experiments, radiation on the surface of Mars, together with perchlorate is destroying organics down into the subsurface, so we need to get below the level that radiation can reach," about 16.4 feet (5 meters) into the ground, McKay said.

A new instrument
Although the instruments on the 2020 rover are expected to seek out signs of ancient life, another instrument currently in development would help search for life signs in the more recent past.

MIT researcher Chris Carr and a team of researchers are currently developing a biomarker-seeking instrument. He is betting that life on Mars is distantly related to life on Earth. The instrument analyzes Martian dirt to uncover genomic information left behind by microorganisms that died out up to 1 million years ago. The tool should be able to detect signatures of DNA and RNA on Mars.

McKay even broadens the scope of Carr’s work. Although strands of DNA and RNA are only detectable for about one million years on Earth, Martian genomic information could last much longer because of the cool, dry environment on Mars.

"The sort of processes that destroy evidence of life on Earth over time have not been operating on Mars and so there’s a better chance that on Mars we might find something that’s a biomarker that’s been there for billions of years so the method doesn’t necessarily preclude recent or old life," McKay said. “The distinction is not so important on Mars."

Earth life could be Martian
Impacts from amino acid-laden meteorites from Mars could have seeded life on Earth, making it possible that organics on the Red Planet and Earth could be related, Carr said.

"If there’s life on Mars, it could be related to life on Earth due to meteoritic transfer between the planets, and this would have largely happened on the order of 3 1/2 or more on the order of 4 billion years ago during a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, when there were many large impact events," Carr told “These impact events transferred on the order of 1 billion tons of rock between Earth and Mars largely from Mars to Earth."

Any life-detection experiment would need a few safeguards to be sure that Earth microbes don’t contaminate a Martian sample.

"Currently, planetary protection allows microbes on the spacecraft," McKay said. “Curiosity is estimated to have flown to Mars with half a million Earth microorganisms on it … but if I was doing a life-detection experiment, those guidelines would not be acceptable."

McKay said he would want hospital-level sterilization for any rover attempting a life detection experiment. The entire robot wouldn’t need to be sterilized, however. Only the instruments performing life-detection investigations would need to be rigorously guarded.



For NASA, Mars Beyond Reach Without Budget Boost

If NASA continues to be funded at its current levels, a manned mission to Mars could be permanently beyond reach, space industry experts say.

When asked how soon astronauts could potentially set foot on Mars under NASA’s current budget constraints, Thomas Young, the former executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, says the outlook is bleak.

“With the current budget, bear with me, I would probably say never,” Young said during a meeting of the U.S. House of Representative’s space subcommittee today (June 19).

Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA’s Opportunity rover now exploring Mars, agreed. Squyres, an astronomy professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., also gave testimony before the House subcommittee.

Young said that if the public and government officials treat a mission to Mars with the importance of the first mission to the moon, it is possible to put boots on the Red Planet in a little more than a decade from now.

“Mars is harder; there are a lot of significant issues to resolve before going to Mars,” Young said. “But I think that if we had the same national commitment to it [as we did to going to the moon], I would say by 2025, we could land on Mars.”

The current draft of NASA’s budget produced by the House asks the space agency to develop a roadmap that will define the technical capabilities needed to send humans to Mars sometime in the future.

“I think the roadmap requirements in the bill are overconstrained,” Squyres said. “I think the idea of establishing a roadmap for human exploration of Mars is great. It’s one of my favorite provisions in this bill, but I think it would be best to allow NASA to do that problem, to work out that roadmap in its technical details and find the best way to achieve that and then come back with a set of recommendations for what the intermediate milestones should be.”

One of those intermediate steps could be another mission to the moon. However, Young doesn’t think that a lunar mission is a necessary requirement for setting foot on Mars.

“I do not believe that landing on the moon or operations on the moon is a prerequisite to going to Mars,” Young said. “Given Mars as the focus, it’s not necessary. It’s probably a significant resource consumer that will take away from the time and effort to go to Mars.”

As it stands now, the budget draft expressly prohibits NASA from carrying out the asteroid-capture mission that would send a robotic spacecraft to redirect a near-Earth asteroid into lunar orbit. The mission was written into President Barack Obama’s draft of the NASA budget released earlier this year.

“While the committee supports the administration’s efforts to study near-Earth objects, this proposal lacks in detail a justification or support from NASA’s own advisory bodies,” Rep. Steven Palazzo said of the proposed mission. “Because the mission appears to be a costly and complex distraction, this bill prohibits NASA from doing any work on the project.”

Under the newest draft, NASA’s budget comes in at about $16.8 billion and authorizes the space agency to continue operations for another two years, Palazzo said. The bill also cuts almost $650 million in Earth sciences program funding and sets a Dec. 31, 2017, flight readiness deadline for NASA’s commercial crew program.

“This authorization bill reflects a sincere effort to maximize return to the taxpayer while working to protect America’s role as the world leader in space exploration,” Palazzo said. “It is realistic and reflective of the hard choices we must make as a nation and provides support for agreed-upon priorities.”


Now would be a good time to google every single space agency in the world, along with each private space company, to view their independent space exploration efforts, which are surely to not only inspire competition and collaboration, but fuel the hopes and dreams of tomorrow’s dreamers - seeing as how they are of short supply within the American political system.

If you’d rather skip an extensive web search, watch The Mars Underground, to obtain a better grasp on how far we’ve come, how shortchanged American efforts in space are, how feasible it’s been since the 70’s to reach Mars, and why we shouldn’t shoot “for” the moon, but beyond it.

What IS The Mars Underground?

The Mars Underground is a landmark documentary that follows Dr. Zubrin and his team as they try to bring this incredible dream to life. Through spellbinding animation, the film takes us on a daring first journey to the Red Planet and envisions a future Mars teeming with life and terraformed into a blue world. A must-see experience for anyone concerned for our global future and the triumph of the human spirit.

“This film captures the spirit of Mars pioneers who refuse to let their dreams be put on hold by a slumbering space program. Their passionate urge to walk the soil of an alien world is infectious and inspirational. This film is the manifesto of the new space revolution.”

- James Cameron

Stay Curious! The Case for Mars | Symphony of Science (Remix)

The Case for Mars | Symphony of Science (Original)

The Case for Mars | Robert Zubrin (Lecture)

One more…in case you missed the point…here’s a short compilation of Robert Zubrin’s testimony address to the Senate. Warning: you may become inspired and fall in love with this man.

Fight for Space Documentary | Kickstarter (Goal Accomplished, 2012)


Rover Finds New Evidence That Ancient Mars Was Habitable

NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has made perhaps the biggest discovery of its nearly 10-year career, finding evidence that life may have been able to get a foothold on the Red Planet long ago.

The Opportunity rover spotted clay minerals in an ancient rock on the rim of Mars’ Endeavour Crater, suggesting that benign, neutral-pH water once flowed through the area, scientists said.

“This is water you could drink,” Opportunity principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University told reporters today (June 7), explaining why the rock, dubbed “Esperance,” stands out from other water-soaked stones the rover has studied.

“This is water that was probably much more favorable in its chemistry, in its pH, in its level of acidity, for things like prebiotic chemistry — the kind of chemistry that could lead to the origin of life,” Squyres added.

Read more: [x]

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.


NEWSFLASH: Mars is Toxic

Mars One founder Bas Lansdorp announced this week that 78,000 people internationally have applied to become the first colonists on a one-way mission to Mars. Although I have serious reservations about the Mars One business plan, I am humbled by the tens of thousands of people that share the excitement and pioneering spirit for a Mars mission. At least Mars One has become a catalyst for mainstream interest in the enduring motivation for getting boots on the Mars regolith.

But, with the knowledge that even the dust beneath their boots would be out to kill them, I wonder how many applicants might drop out?

Continue Reading



Mars colony project will begin astro-colonist search in July

Even though colonists will never return to Earth, Mars One is expecting 1 million applications for its colonization project.

Personally i think it is very stupid and even immoral to send people to Mars if you can’t get them back to Earth. You should first find a way to get anything back from Mars. Best to start with unmanned satellites.

Maybe you need more than one flight to do this;

First send a satellite to Mars. It is easy to do. It is done more than once.

Second send a module to mars with a rocket engine and fuel to send the satellite back with it. In this way you don’t need huge rockets. Average size will do.

It may work or not but does only involve machines. A failure won’t harm people. If it works you can send manned flights to Mars. You could test this by computer simulations.

I seriously considered applying for this, but decided not to. The outcome of the project is just too uncertain. What if they run out of funding while you’re up there?


Sun Will Upset Mars Missions in April

The positions of the planets next month will mean diminished communications between Earth and NASA’s spacecraft on Mars.

Mars will be passing almost directly behind the sun, from Earth’s perspective. The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets during that near-alignment. To prevent an impaired command from reaching an orbiter or rover, mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are preparing to suspend sending any commands to spacecraft at Mars for weeks in April. Transmissions from Mars to Earth will also be reduced.

Read more:

We did NOT find life on Mars!

Hi everyone,

I just saw a link posted by a friend on facebook that takes you to an article by The Guardian (here) about the recent findings by MSL’s Curiosity Rover on the geology of early Mars.

Unfortunately, the title of the article, as it was posted on facebook, is “Nasa Curiosity rover finds new evidence that life once existed on Mars.”

This is not true! They found that the conditions on early Mars could have been favorable for life, but no actual life has been found. The article is actually decent, but someone somewhere really dropped the ball on the facebook title conversion.

Please do not contribute to misinformation! We are learning lots of interesting things about Mars and the potential for astrobiology, but please do not let yourself (or your friends) be taken in by sensationalism and inaccurate reporting!

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