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Life On Mars: Past, Present and FutureMars appears to be cold dry and dead world. However there is good evidence that early in its history it had liquid water, more active volcanism, and a thicker atmosphere. Mars had this earth-like environment over three and a half billion years ago, during the same time that life appeared on Earth. The main question in the exploration of Mars then is the search for a independent origin of life on that planet. Ecosystems in cold, dry locations on Earth - such as the Antarctic - provide examples of how life on Mars might have survived and where to look for fossils. Although the Viking results may indicate that Mars has no life today, there is direct geomorphological evidence that, in the past, Mars had large amounts of liquid water on its surface - possibly due to a thicker atmosphere. From a biological perspective the existence of liquid water, by itself motivates the question of the origin of life on Mars. One of the martian meteorites dates back to this early period and may contain evidence consistent with life. From studies of the Earth's earliest biosphere we know that by 3.5 Cyr. ago, life had originated on Earth and reached a fair degree of biological sophistication. Surface activity and erosion on Earth make it difficult to trace the history of life before the 3.5 Cyr timeframe. Ecosystems in cold, dry locations on Earth - such as the Antarctic - provide examples of how life on Mars might have survived and where to look for fossils. Human exploration of Mars will probably begin with a small base manned by a temporary crew, a necessary first start. But exploration of the entire planet will require a continued presence on the Martian surface and the development of a self sustaining community in which humans can live and work for very long periods of time. A permanent Mars research base can be compared to the permanent research bases which several nations maintain in Antarctica at the South Pole, the geomagnetic pole, and elsewhere. In the long run, a continued human presence on Mars will be the most economical way to study that planet in detail. It is possible that at some time in the future we might recreate a habitable climate on Mars, returning it to the life-bearing state it may have enjoyed early in its history. Our studies of Mars are still in a preliminary state but everything we have learned suggests that it may be possible to restore Mars to a habitable climate.
Document ID
20010084183
Document Type
Conference Paper
Authors
McKay, Christopher P. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
DeVincenzi, Donald L.
Date Acquired
August 20, 2013
Publication Date
January 29, 2000
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Meeting Information
Astrobiology Miniworkshop(Madrid)
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 344-38-82-04
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.