Mars Exploration And The Search For Life

The Apollo human trips to the Moon must be considered one of mankind's greatest technical accomplishments, especially given the rudimentary electronics available at the time. 

  • That was undoubtedly the pinnacle of NASA's accomplishments. 
  • Since then, NASA has been debating what should happen next in terms of people in space.
  • There seems to have been a strong desire to get humans into space, which led to the creation of the Space Shuttle. 

While it is true that any human mission in space requires access, the problems with the Shuttle were that, 

(i) the development and operation of the Shuttle required so much funding that there wasn't much left over to support what humans would do once they did get access to space, and 

(ii) the Shuttle's reliability deteriorated over time, until the main goal seemed to be merely to land sat. 

Following the Shuttle, NASA began on the Space Station, which, like the Shuttle, proved to be a money drain while delivering even less value. 

Michael Griffin was the NASA Administrator at the time, and his perspective aligned with Robert Zubrin's: 

  • The NASA budget allocates funding to its constituencies for technology development in the belief that if enough technical work is done, the building blocks for missions will be available (Zubrin 2014). 
  • As Zubrin put it, "technology and hardware components are created in accordance with the desires of different technical groups" under this manner. 

These initiatives are therefore justified by the premise that they may be helpful in the future when large-scale flying programs are restarted. 

  • In theory, if executed intelligently and successfully, this method has considerable value. 
  • However, we know from experience that establishing and maintaining a link between technology development and mission requirements is difficult. 

Furthermore, the requirement to connect technology to particular objectives may suffocate innovation and hinder development on higher-paying technologies. 

  • Griffin, unlike his predecessors, was committed to what Zubrin referred to as the Apollo Mode: first, a destination for human space travel is selected. 
  • After that, a strategy for achieving the goal is devised. Following that, technologies and designs are created to put the strategy into action. 
  • The mission is then flown once these designs have been constructed. 

Griffin's strategy was to choose a particular destination and devote a significant portion of NASA's budget to developing technologies to get there. 

  • By rapidly phasing out the Shuttle and the Space Station and diverting NASA Center technology money to shorter-term initiatives directly meeting the requirements of his destination-driven mission idea, his goal was to establish a pool of resources inside NASA for executing his vision. Griffin made the decision to return to the Moon. 
  • He most likely postponed a trip to Mars because the finances were just not available. 

An interview with Griffin may provide some insight into Griffin's thoughts (2010). 

  • He said in the interview that the Obama administration's strategy "does not bring us out beyond low Earth orbit in a timely and efficient manner." 
  • Transporting people to the Moon, he said, was an essential step toward ultimately sending humans to Mars. 
  • He also said that "the Moon is fascinating in and of itself." “I believe the experience of learning how to live on another planet just three days from home is extremely valuable...” he said. 
  • Griffin's objective, however, was not able to be realized due to a lack of funding in the NASA budget. 
  • Griffin's Constellation project was hampered by continued funding for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. 

Furthermore, after further consideration, the benefit of returning to the Moon seemed to be extremely speculative. 

President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation program in 2010, and NASA seems to have returned to a constituency-driven model since then. 


While NASA has made some crazy promises about sending people to Mars in the 2030s, beautiful PowerPoint slides do not seem to be enabling for this trip. 

  • How, where, and when life emerged from inorganic materials is an unanswered question. 
  • One fundamental piece of information we have is that life lived on Earth in a rudimentary form over 3 billion years ago (BYA). 
  • This was discovered in dated strata using fossil remnants of early forms of life. 

What was the method through which lifeless matter gave birth to life in its earliest stages? 

Is there life beyond the solar system or somewhere in the solar system? 

All of these issues are subordinate to the main question: 

  • Is the emergence of life from inanimate matter a probable (or perhaps predictable) process given enough time, a warm environment, liquid water, and a scattering of chemical elements from the lower periodic table? 
  • Some scientists have used logic and creativity to concoct a broad range of possible scenarios for the emergence of life, many of which are based on little evidence. 

To this writer, they seem to be extremely questionable. 

  • Science despises the lack of solutions to critical problems, just as nature despises a vacuum. 
  • As a consequence, scientists have come up with a variety of "explanations" for how life started.
  • There are many articles on livable worlds. Surely, there must be a large number in the different galaxies. But the issue isn't whether there are livable planets; there are. 

What is the likelihood that life would emerge spontaneously on such a planet? 

  • The commonly held idea seems to be that any planetary body with enough heat, water, and a few components would spontaneously develop life. 
  • Given this viewpoint, Mars seems like an obvious location to look for alien life. 

As a result, NASA's exploration missions are primarily focused on looking for life on Mars. 

But how likely is it that life will develop on such a planet?

Is NASA looking for an ephemeral fantasy with a very little chance of occurring?

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

You may also want to read more about Space Missions and Systems here.

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