New robotic craft bound for Mars should give us our best shot at finding life on the Red Planet.
In the next decade or so, it’s entirely possible that you’ll see a headline announcing that NASA has found evidence of life in space.
Would that news cause you to run screaming into the street? An article that appeared recently in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph hints that Jim Green, the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, thinks the public might be discombobulated by the discovery of biology beyond the bounds of our own planet. But that’s not really what Green believes. He’s concerned that we haven’t thought much about the next steps by scientists, should we suddenly confront the reality of Martian life.
Here’s the backstory: In 2020, Mars and Earth will once again be relatively close to each other in their adjacent orbits around the sun. To take advantage of this fortuitous orbital circumstance, space agencies will be lobbing a small brigade of spacecraft toward the Red Planet. Unlike the robotic explorers now prowling Mars’ dusty landscapes, these new craft — launched by both NASA and a European-Russian collaboration — will be engaged in a type of reconnaissance that hasn’t been tried since NASA’s Viking landers set down there in the mid-1970s. The new craft will go beyond merely scouting for locations that were once suitable for life. They’ll be on the hunt for life itself. Dead or alive.