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The search for life

Searching for life on Mars

Looking for organisms, dead or alive, destination Mars. The Perseverance Lander sent to the red planet in 2020 has a number of missions to accomplish. While the images of Mars’ surface sent by many landers and orbiters shows it to be completely barren, some researchers have hypothesized that Mars might have had the conditions for at least simple microbial life some hundreds of millions or billions of years ago; or even that microbes might be living under the surface now!

These are extremely long shots, but NASA teams put together a method in which the lander moseys around and digs cores in the rock. The analyses on the lander showed no current life nor clear chemical traces of past life, so the idea is to have a new lander deliver a rocket-with-a-rocket to be loaded with the samples and fly into Mars orbit, to be picked up by yet another rocket. Sophisticated analyses can be done back on Earth. Hmmm. Pricey.

The original budget was $4 billion, and now it’s crept up to 6 billion. This is already squeezing out many other NASA projects, to the consternation of many scientists. Congress is likely to pull the plug at 8 or 10 billion. We’ll see. What do you think it’s worth? You might also enjoy my analysis of Mars and beyond, at lcaoutreach.org and click on habitability of planets.

This has been an outreach activity of the Las Cruces Academy, viewable at GreatSchools.org.


Vince grew up in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. He has enjoyed a long career in science, starting in chemistry and physics and moving through plant physiology, ecology, remote sensing, and agronomy.
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  • KRWG explores the world of science every week with Vince Gutschick, Chair of the Board, Las Cruces Academy lascrucesacademy.org and New Mexico State University Professor Emeritus, Biology.