Aug 22, 2012

The Curiosity Rover on Mars won't Recognize Life if it was Right Under its Nose

I know it's a really long title for a blog post, but I wanted to make something clear.
The Curiosity rover is NOT looking for living organisms, alive or dead. I know a lot of people are hoping Curiosity is gonna find traces of life on Mars, but in fact it's not.

Instead, here's what it's looking for.

"The Mars Science Laboratory is going to take Curiosity with its set of instruments, to figure out if Mars could ever have supported microbial life."
So instead of looking for life itself, they're trying to look at the environment of Mars and see if it was capable of supporting life.

Why aren't they looking for life when finding one on Mars could be a ground-shaking(which is an understatement) discovery?

In the 1970s, the Viking landers were launched to the red planet by NASA. One of Viking's mission goals clearly stated, "search for evidence of life on Mars". It actually did have instruments to detect life there, if it existed.

But the results were negative (though raising some arguments), and seeing there was probably no life on Mars, the public attention was turned elsewhere.

It was a long time before a lander was able to go back to Mars after the Viking missions(in 1997 with the Mars Pathfinder). So the space agency couldn't afford to look for life again in its Curiosity mission and fail again, which would lead to budget cuts for Mars programs.

So, long story short, we are not going to find any Martians this time.
But it's a heck of a cool mission still!

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