h+ Magazine

Summer 2009

Issue link: http://cp.revolio.com/i/1161

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Page 47 of 83

48 summer 2009 48 summer 2009 48 48 P ete Worden is the Director of the NAsA Ames research Center and an Advisor to the space and Physical sciences Track of singularity university. We caught up with Pete on the NAsA Ames campus, where we talked about what we've just learned about mars and how self- replicating robots will be used to colonize space, among other things. h+: What have we learned recently about Mars and the possibility of life there? PeTe WOrDeN: Well, from what we've seen and the missions we've had, mars is obviously an environment that can support large-scale human activity. It has substantial quantities of water and other "volatiles" — carbon compounds and so forth — so it clearly can support life. In fact, it may already be supporting life, and that's one of the main things we need to fi nd out before we do anything, because there may be microbial life below the surface of the planet. We announced recently — and this is actually from earth-based observations — that there is evidence of variable methane on the planet. This could mean that there is some sort of geologic activity going on underground, with its own source of heat that would melt water and allow fl ows underground. This would be exciting in its own right, for we have long thought that mars was a geologically inactive, "cold" planet, like the moon. However, since life can also cause methane to be produced, our fi rst objective is to fi nd out if there is already life there. h+: And that's where the robot missions come in? PW: Yes. The possibility that life exists currently on mars suggests that we're going to have to do extensive robotic exploration here on earth. mars is obviously an environment that can support large-scale human activity. I don't want to take the chance that we're on the losing side, until we fi nd out what it is, and if it's compatible with earth life, or not. There's also a possibility that earth life is mars life. The fi rst life forms here may have come from mars. We don't know. It may be more compatible than one would think. But, at any rate, it's a very interesting scientifi c question. h+: but you're also trying to be careful not to introduce any harmful bacteria to anything that might already be living on Mars? PW: exactly. until we understand the full biospheres of both planets, we'll want to be careful. so, sterile robots can begin to help us do that. We're pretty sure that there's no life on the surface of mars, or at least nowhere we've looked, but there may be life sub-surface. We already know LIFE ON MARS with Pete Worden LIsA reIN

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