Why We Have To Leave Our Cradle...And Get To Mars - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Why We Have To Leave Our Cradle...And Get To Mars

Photo courtesy MSNBC.Com Photo courtesy MSNBC.Com

MSNBC.COM - Mars has teased the imagination since early astronomers discovered that it doesn't flicker. It glows red as it moves forward and backward in odd, yet predictable, patterns. It was noted in the records of Babylonian, Chinese and Mayan stargazers, and it has figured prominently in ancient mythology.

Galileo developed the science of astronomy with his invention of the telescope, and as knowledge of our planetary neighbor grew, Mars appeared to bear a strange kinship to Earth. Astronomers determined that it had close to a 24-hour day and the appearance of an atmosphere, and some even speculated that it harbored intelligent life.

As telescopes improved, observers learned that Mars had two moons, a polar cap and a curious array of surface features — the notorious canali, described by Italy's Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877.

We Earthlings have sent robots to study Mars' surface many times over the past three decades. Last month, NASA announced new findings: If life ever existed on Mars, the longest-lasting habitats were most likely below the Red Planet's surface .

The new interpretation comes from years of mineral-mapping data, covering more than 350 sites on Mars examined by European and NASA spacecraft.  The study suggests that Martian environments with abundant liquid water existed only during short episodes.  These episodes occurred toward the end of hundreds of millions of years during which warm water interacted with subsurface rocks. If the research holds up, it's plausible to think that life in some form could have existed back then.

"Our interpretation is a shift from thinking that the warm, wet environment was mostly at the surface to thinking it was mostly in the subsurface, with limited exceptions," said Johns Hopkins University's Scott Murchie, principal investigator for the CRISM spectrometer on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Murchie said that one of the exceptions might be Gale Crater, the landing site for NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. A car-sized rover named Curiosity is on its way to land in August near the foot of a layered mountain inside the crater.  Layers of this mountain contain water-formed minerals, and the rover will travel for miles investigating the alluvial fan of water-carried sediments. NASA hopes the mission will help experts figure out how future humans could live on the Martian landscape.

The question is, can NASA afford to think about sending humans to Mars when the space agency is at what are arguably the most perplexing crossroads in its 53 years of existence? click here to read the full article

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