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Mars Space Science

Mars Site May Hold 'Buried Life' 63

Posted by kdawson
from the is-that-calcium-carbonate-or-are-you-just-glad-to-see-me dept.
sridharo sends in a report from the BBC that researchers have identified ancient rocks from Nili Fossae that could contain fossilized remains of life. These rocks are very similar to Pilbara rocks in northwest Australia. The rocks are estimated to be up to four billion years old, which means they have been around for three-quarters of the history of Mars. "[Many] scientists had hoped that they would soon have the opportunity to get much closer to these rocks. Nili Fossae was put forward as a potential landing site for NASA's ambitious new rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, which will be launched in 2011. ... But Nilae Fossae was eventually deemed too dangerous a landing site and it was finally removed from the list in June of this year." The research, led by a scientist from the SETI Institute, was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
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Mars Site May Hold 'Buried Life'

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  • by brasselv (1471265) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:30AM (#33083640)

    Here's the link [seti.org] to the original paper.
    While not a specialist, the paper looks to me FAR from suggesting anything close to what the headlines claim.
    The "conclusions" of the paper state:

    The presence of clay and carbonate in the Nili Fossae region suggests that biomarkers (if present) could have been preserved within these rocks, as they have been in the Pilbara region.

    May be it's just the authors being understandably cautious on such a topic, on a peer-reviewed journal, with the language they are using.
    (I reckon it's more likely, though, that it's the headlines erring on the excitement.)

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday July 30, 2010 @01:27PM (#33086590) Homepage

    I wasn't around when Kennedy made his speech about going to the moon so I was wondering, what was the reception of the speech at the time?

    My understanding is that it was lukewarm-to-positive at best, because we'd been recently and roundly spanked by the Soviets in space and because beating the Soviets was the name of the game. What there wasn't was neither a sudden nor a sustained burst of public support for going to the Moon and beyond.
     
    There were cries of pork - but those centered mostly around the decision to build the new facilities in the Vice President's home state on land owned by his cronies. Not so much over the program at large. But then, there were also cries over the great expense and cost overruns of the Mercury program.
     

    Republicans were much more of a financially conservative party then, did they balk at the cost and actually try and cut spending from it rather than reallocating it?

    The big cuts came in '65-'67 when the true costs of the program (much, much higher than originally estimated) were becoming obvious. The costs were also pushed higher because of NASA's indulgence in gold plating and in ever increasing mission creep. (And I don't recall which side of the aisle they came from.)
     
    What most people don't realize is that by the time Apollo 11 flew, the program was already running on fumes. Major hardware production had already been capped, the overall budget had already been sharply trimmed, and future programs had already been capped or eliminated. Many people blame Nixon for killing the Apollo program, but in reality all he did was pull the plug on the ventilator - the patient was already essentially dead of wounds incurred during the budget firefights in '65-'67.
     
    The same applies, in reverse, to the Shuttle program. NASA started studying aircraft type reuseable spacecraft about 2 seconds after it was created, and spent considerable money and effort doing so across the 1960's. (In fact, the final study contracts for what became the Shuttle were signed while Apollo 11 was in flight!) Again, by the time Nixon arrived on the scene, the die was already largely cast - and he had greater priorities than spending political capital on space exploration, which the public cared little about so long as provided plenty of puff filled press releases, pretty pictures, and accomplishments both real and pseudo.
     
    And that's really one of the keys to understanding how we got in such a mess, and why we can't seem to get out of it. There really isn't a national consensus over space exploration, and the debates raging today over basic policy are the ones we should have had forty years ago.
     

    If the answer to these questions is that the response was more positive, was it Kennedy himself who paved the way for this plan to be accepted, or the general fear of the Soviets that got it pushed through?

    The answer, which will surprise many people, is neither,
     
    What isn't widely known (because most people only read the popular histories, not the academic ones) is that Kennedy chose the goal of landing on the moon rather hastily. He asked his advisers for a big flashy goal that the US could accomplish that the Soviet's couldn't, and of the options they offered he chose the moon landing and announced it, all within the span of a few weeks and without serious study on anyone's part. Within a few more weeks, as the costs and risks of the program became clearer, Kennedy began to seek ways to back off from supporting the program without political damage...
     
    But what actually sealed Apollo's fate was an assassin's bullet in Dealey Plaza. That put one of the few major politicians that actually had any significant interest in space exploration into the Oval Office and allowed him to push the Apollo program as a monument to Kennedy.

  • Re:SETI? (Score:4, Informative)

    by SETIGuy (33768) on Friday July 30, 2010 @01:53PM (#33086928) Homepage
    That's the problem with the SETI Institute calling themselves "the SETI Institute." The SETI institute is a research institute that works on many types of science. Most of the scientists working at the SETI institute are biologists, chemists, geologists, and astronomers that don't do SETI. They work on other aspects of studying the potential for life in the universe. They also have an education group that designs curricula related to the search for life in the universe. It's even worse when they drop the word "Institute" and call themselves "SETI." Most of the people in the world that do SETI don't work at the SETI institute. But the SETI institute is sometimes credited or blamed for work they didn't do because they have allowed the idea that all SETI is done or overseen by the SETI Institute to become pervasive.

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