Over four decades ago, the late David Bowie was already asking the question if there was Life on Mars through his song of the same title. After nearly 50 years of trying to land spacecraft on Mars, we are no closer to the answer.
What we now know, instead, is that Mars might very well have been another version of Earth. The successful landing on Martian terrain by Curiosity, the car-sized robotic rover exploring Gale Crater as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, provided images that show how Earth has many things in common with Mars.
Our Closest Neighboring Planet Mirrors Our Own
It takes a mere six months to send a robot to Mars, which may account for the number of Mars landings attempted – that ended in failure. On October 19, the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander crashed after wrongly timing the cutting of parachutes, and when its retrorockets did not fire long enough to get it to land.
Despite being a dried-up husk of a red planet—the red color being the result of oxidized iron in the air – Mars’ reddish brown, sun-baked rocks recall the Earth’s own rock formations. Discoveries on earth, like the oldest water found in ancient rocks at the Kidd Creek Mine in Ontario, also point to the possibility of making the Martian subsurface habitable.
More Than An Exploratory Site
Ashwin Vasavada, the project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, summed up Mars’ attraction as something like going to early Earth: “It’s like finding a dusty Earth in your attic. Shake off the dust a little bit, and it’s an amazing place that you can recognize.” Tesla CEO and inventor Elon Musk, on the other hand, went so far as invoking “our shared future,” not just exploration of Mars, reason enough to spur him to unveil plans for spaceships and rockets to transport human settlers to Mars.
Curiosity has shown Mars to have been habitable in the past, but it certainly is not now. A human being without a spacesuit on Mars would boil and freeze to death; the radiation would mean for that person to be inside pressurized domes at all times.
Unending Search for Life on Mars
The search for life on Mars dates back to August 22, 1924. Edward Eberle, the head of the United States Navy, ordered all stations to turn their receivers toward Mars.
The idea was that they would listen if Martians wanted to communicate via the airwaves. No Martians made contact.
Vasavada and other scientists stated that one is more likely to find evidence of ancient life on Mars, rather than existing life. Ray Arvidson, a renowned scientist who has been part of every NASA Mars mission since Viking, underscored that we do not really know for sure whether Mars had life.
As we look at images of the dried-up red planet, we can only be grateful Earth did not share a similar fate. In not finding signs of life yet on Mars, we are reminded of just how unique we are as human beings.