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Surprising Science

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.


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