In the next few hours, an announcement will be made at a NASA press conference which could change forever the way we view the planets of the solar system, our place in the solar system and may go some way to answering the question:
Could life be sustained on worlds in our solar system other than the Earth?
The expected confirmation of water on the surface of Mars, to be announced at a NASA press conference at 11AM Eastern time today has wide ranging ramifications both for our view of the solar system, of Mars and for the future direction of space exploration.
If as expected, NASA announces there is water, possibly flowing, on the surface of Mars, our view of the red planet, and indeed, our destiny in space may well be changed forever.
Long suspected as having harboured life at some previous time, the presence of water may be a precursor to the answering of the question: is there or was there ever life on Mars. It is fairly certain that no major life forms are present on the planet; however, the presence of microbiological forms of life cannot be ruled out. For almost half a century, evidence has been gathered pointing toward the ability for biological organisms to survive in hostile environments or vacuums on various bodies throughout the solar system. During the November 1969 flight of Apollo 12, the crew retrieved and returned the camera from the Surveyor 3 television camera after 31 months on the airless lunar surface. When examined on Earth, microbes, thought to have been present in the camera prior to launch, were found to be still alive.
Microbiological life is also suspected to live in potential seas on satellites such as Jupiter’s icy world Europa and Saturn’s satellite, Enceladus.
On Mars itself, since planetary landings began, there has been tantalising evidence gathered that water may be present…beginning with observations of the so called canals, first glimpsed during the earliest telescopic observations in the 1600’s and more recently, through visual imaging of deposits of Carbon Dioxide frost first seen at the Viking 2 landing site in Utopia Planitia in 1977 and again at Vasitis Borealis in the Northern polar region of Mars during the 2008 Phoenix mission with the lander being targeted for this area after the orbiting Mars Odyssey spacecraft detected high concentrations of sub surface ice at the site.
Today, hundreds of years of questions may finally be answered, but with the answering of those questions many more will surely take their place… What is the chemical composition? In what quantities does it exist? Does it, as has been seen on other worlds, provide shelter to microbiological life?
Is it of a quality that could support or sustain human life?
That is the reason why we have sent so many spacecraft to the red planet. We are analysing every aspect of the planet. Its atmosphere, geology, its ability to sustain life.
Whether that life be extra terrestrial, microbiological or, in time, the lives of the human race.
Today’s announcement may bring that question closer to resolution
This announcement has major ramifications for space exploration and space settlement. Should, as we expect, the presence of flowing water be announced, one of the major obstacles for future human colonization of the red planet will be removed.
If there is indeed running water at this site, most likely emenating from some source deep within the mountains that surround the Curiosity lander or possibly from some source within the planet itself such as Artesian water on the Earth, we may very well, within the coming hours, have our first glimpse of the site that will, in the very near future be the initial landing site for the first manned mission to Mars, and in all likelihood, the site for the first attempt by humans to colonize the red planet.
For any landing on the Martian surface or for any planetary colony to prove viable, the pioneers of such colonies will need to be as self sufficient as possible relying heavily on the natural resources available and on the ability of the colony to be largely self sustaining thereby generating its own resources utilising the natural resources available. The propulsive power simply does not exist to launch a fully equipped mission with full life sustaining provisions to the red planet
The presence of water would make a Martian colony more than just a dream… it would go a long way toward such a colony becoming a reality, with the water providing the necessary backbone to long term sustainability, both as a working fluid, source of irrigation for agriculture, cooling fluid for life support, source of electrical power or indeed as a constituent of rocket fuel for a voyage home, or a voyage further out into space.
Today, in a few short hours, we may be looking at images of a site which will become our first human planetary outpost beyond the Earth-Moon system.
For the human exploration of space, for the future colonization of space and indeed for the long term viability of the human race, today’s announcement may be a turning point in our vision for space habitation.
For we may truly have found our first save haven on our journey outward to the stars.