Why Mars Beckons

There are many reasons for us to visit Mars. A key motivation is that after Earth, it appears the most likely abode for life in our solar system. And there are some political factors.

What's the Big Idea?

Colonizing the Red Planet looms large on the space agenda now. Why? In this fascinating piece, NASA research scientist Joel S. Levine lists and examines the motivations for this exciting yet very challenging mission: to inspire both the American public and the next generation of researchers, enhanced national prestige, technological leadership, enhanced national security, development of new technologies (for non-space spin-off applications), enhanced economic vitality, and new scientific discoveries not obtainable from robotic missions to Mars. Others would add that Mars might offer a safe haven (if we look like following the fate of the dinosaurs thanks to a large asteroid or comet impact) and a possible solution to our population explosion.

What's the Latest Development?

Maybe the main point is the need for a definitive development. Is there life on Mars now or not? Was there ever? If there was, what happened to it? Today, 35 years after the Viking landing on Mars, scientists still debate the results and interpretation of the mission's life detection experiments. Levine says there's only one way to obtain unambiguous results, and that involves human presence.

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less