life on mars

So let’s talk about Space, Mars, and Science today. Beats yakking about the weather.

This morning I read two interesting Bulletins on Mars and space exploration from a friend I respect very much. We tend to disagree on specifics of issues but concur on the big picture. As ~A said to me…. Same Yo-Yo Different String.

In a typical synchronistic fashion I’d actually been following the recent news and photos from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor.

This week’s images suggest that Mars may really have once been a hospitable planet for life. Theories for this have been spoken since our first explorations there of course. This new batch of photos shows that the topography has changed from NASA’s original images taken 1999 to 2001. Specifically that deposits on two craters in the southern hemisphere, of possibly mud, salt or frost, were left there when water RECENTLY cascaded through. The gullies have changed configuration.

Here’s where things get weird:

there are two very different schools of thought regarding life on Mars and the probable discovery of extant water.

Both theories are constrained by a crucial point… H20.
Water on Mars would not stay on the surface for too damned long. The temperatures are subzero and the atmospheric pressure would convert the water into gas. This seems crucial to me in regards to life but what do I know? I’m just a girl.

These two lines of thought can be best represented (in my oh-so-humble opinion of course) by two different scientists. Both of these scientists are well known, love astronomy, and are optimistic and hungry for new knowledge of the cosmos. This is where the similarity ends.

School of Thought Number One brought to you by

Richard C Hoagland

What I like about Dr. Hoagland is his sheer optimism, which is best expressed by the following ‘Top Ten’ list forwarded by ABear. Check it out:

Top 10 reasons to go back to the moon and go to mars

By Richard C. Hoagland
© 2004 The Enterprise Mission

To give our kids new Hope, careers and Dreams — beyond merely surviving in a world of growing terrorism, more “police state” responses, with increasing resource and energy scarcity ultimately leading to endless global wars

To finally shift Mankind’s perspectives from “us against them,” to “we’re all one human Family,” with a resultant dramatic lessening of Conflict — by finding actual evidence of extraterrestrial life to compare ourselves against … be it “merely” microbes, or even something more …

By finally opening up unlimited solar system resources — be it exotic fuels, new planetary minerals or endless solar energy – dramatically alter the “have not” competition between the First and Third Worlds here on Earth … the ultimate source of increasing global terrorism

By setting sufficiently high goals – permanent human occupation of the Moon, then on to Mars – maintain the leadership role of the United States, by revolutionizing our current lagging technological and economic infrastructure … similar to Project Apollo jump-starting a sleepy 1950’s America into the 21st Century

By greatly accelerating these radical technologies — from “black” energy systems and propulsion to autonomous robotics, from desktop “super computers” to their ultra-broad band communications (essential to conducting “routine operations” on the Moon and Beyond) – dramatically accelerate overall national and global productivity, with startling increases in GNP and GWP

By federally subsidizing the creation of a whole new generation of consumer industries — through pioneering a literal “Second age of Space” — dramatically increase the historical “return on investment” from past NASA spending … from 23 to one to more than 100-to-one; thus, for every billion dollars invested in this New Space Program, over a hundred billion will return to the national and world economy

By creating a global generation of “rich” humans, without adverse environmental consequences, peacefully reduce the growing pressures of global population – as historical data from the United States and Europe overwhelmingly has demonstrated that increasing personal wealth is the best “voluntary birth control”

By finally providing accessible new sources of raw materials and energy “off planet,” processed in lunar and orbital industrial facilities, naturally reverse over a century of planetary degradation and pollution … including global warming

By accelerating fundamental solar system exploration with human beings, return equally fundamental, radical scientific information – ranging from comparative planetary data which will assist preservation of the Earth’s environment through new space installations, to answers to the origin of the human race itself

By physically exploring our own solar system from a position of unimagined wealth and capability, someday answer the most haunting question of them all: are we the only intelligent species ever to have lived under this Sun … or, did someone come Before?


I like this. Goddess knows that any grounds for hope in life are to be celebrated and not scorned. In fact Richard Hoagland’s list helps to give an impetus to change an underlying belief of mine. Yep. You CAN teach an old girl new tricks. Hmmmm that phrase sounded so wrong.

Anyway, I have advocated scrapping the mind-boggling scope of the space program since I was about 12. This coming from a woman who remembers watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. That was a long day of waiting in a house full of my parent’s friends and lots of us little kids. All of us constantly checking the big-ass console TV for updates. It was so many years ago that my parents were still married. To each other.

Maybe this was a harbinger of my scientific interests as I can remember that day vividly and have blocked out the remaining 10 years of childhood.

Back to the point; my thoughts have always paralleled Tom Lehrer, a Harvard Math Professor and brilliant musical satirist who said in the late 60’s:

“And what is it that put America in the forefront of the nuclear nations? And what is it that will make it possible to spend 20 billion dollars of your money to put some clown on the moon?
Well, it was good old American know-how, that’s what.”

I’ve always craved the information gleaned from our limited explorations with satellites and unmanned craft but believe with all my heart that my tax money should be spent better on THIS planet. Maybe we could divert a few billion to the non-existent problems of education, housing, medical treatment and nutritious food in this country.
Maybe use some of that good old American know-how.
Yeah it’s wacky I know.

As an adult I see that my idea is untenable and perhaps spending funds on the space program would at least allow us a smidge of hope.

With the jaded attitude of age and experience I feel it is the only way our government would ever divert funds from war. Hell, with the ‘Star Wars’ mindset begun by Reagan the US has managed to combine war and space into a brand new scary realm. The Two Great Tastes That oh nevermind.

I’d rather have less for arms and more for science and that’s the real choice. It’s a government after all. Screw the citizens. Reward the lobbyists and industrial complex. Well if I have to give in I’ll go for science instead of nukes. Before you comment to me on space exploration and weapons being intristically enmeshed… yeah I know. Leave me to a little Pollyannaism okay?

School of Thought Number Two brought to you by

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog

I’ve subscribed to Phil’s blog for several months and love it. I’m a skeptic at heart and find solace with those who know more about a subject than myself and are able to articulate it. I’d only heard of Richard Hoagland before from reading the Bad Astronomy blog, and then only in a tertiary manner.

Both Phil and Richard are THRILLED with the new possibilities of present water laid out by NASA’s findings yesterday. They are excited for very different reasons though.

Phil admits that the skeptic in him admits that these images are NOT absolute conclusive proof of water on Mars. He believes that

“we need better images (maybe from the new probe orbiting Mars now), and spectra would be nice (to be able to see what chemicals are there). Even better would be to land a rover near there to get samples, though gullies down the sides of crater walls would make a perilous journey for any robot. If these aren’t water gullies, we’ll all be disappointed, but that’s science.”


That last line is what differentiates Phil from Richard.

Richard is using the exact same information to state conclusively that his theories are right regarding NASA being a massive Masonic-Illuminati-whatever conspiracy, the face on Mars really being an artificially (i.e. Martian/life-form) created city surrounded by pyramids, and that he is finally vindicated because now it is “proven” that he is right and all of those other scientists were wrong all along.

Phil is a professed skeptic and a respected scientist. I tend towards those who keep an open mind about their convictions.

“Hell I could be wrong” is a good way to live a life.

Richard makes me nervous with his dogma and insistence on conspiracies.

The really amazing thing is that both of these guys are like kids in respect to the recent photos and findings yet they’re polar opposites in their writings, conclusions, and theories.

Neither believes the third option proposed to explain these newly moved gullied is scientifically viable; the recent changes are a result of dirt and sand slides.

Can you imagine? Water and changes on a planet we had believed ‘dead’ all taking place as recently as the last seven years? A-fucking-mazing.

This just proves that there are some things which do bring us all together, and that’s hella cool.

So I’m re-thinking my dislike of NASA’s programs. Not the bloat though. A middle ground would be good. Maybe that’s where Richard and Phil can have lunch together as well.
Hope that I’m invited.

~Miss R

Currently listening:
Hunky Dory
By: David Bowie

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