Why explore Mars?

Part of the Springer Praxis Books book series (PRAXIS)


JPL manages the NASA Mars Exploration Program (MEP) for NASA. This Program has been carrying out a series of robotic missions for a number of years to explore Mars. The great success of the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions has shown that autonomous rovers can traverse the surface of Mars and make important scientific observations within limited areas. As a result, an ambitious long-range plan for in situ exploration has been developed by the MEP based on a consensus of views of leading Mars scientists. The highest priority goal is the search for life (past or present) on Mars. For example, a JPL website deals with: “Why Explore Mars?” This website argues:

“After Earth, Mars is the planet with the most hospitable climate in the solar system. So hospitable that it may once have harbored primitive, bacteria-like life. Outflow channels and other geologic features provide ample evidence that billions of years ago liquid water flowed on the surface of Mars. Although liquid water may still exist deep below the surface of Mars, currently the temperature is too low and the atmosphere too thin for liquid water to exist at the surface.

What caused the change in Mars’ climate? Were the conditions necessary for life to originate ever present on Mars? Could there be bacteria in the subsurface alive today? These are the questions that lead us to explore Mars. The climate of Mars has obviously cooled dramatically ... As we begin to explore the universe and search for planets in other solar systems, we must first ask the questions:
  • Did life occur on another planet in our own solar system?

  • What are the minimal conditions necessary for the formation of life?”

The NASA Mars Exploration Program places the greatest emphasis on four themes:
  • Search for evidence of past life.

  • Explore hydrothermal habitats. (Potential for discovery of evidence of past and present life is greatly improved.)

  • Search for present life.

  • Explore evolution of Mars.

The primary short-term goal is the search for evidence of past life. If hydrothermal vents were found (none have been discovered as yet) the search would focus on such locations. The search for present life would “follow upon the discovery, by earlier orbiting or landed missions, that environments on present Mars have the potential to support life.”


Solar System Liquid Water Hydrothermal Vent Past Life Present Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
  2. 2.
    Mars Exploration Strategy 2009–2020, Dan McCleese (ed.), Mars Science Program Synthesis Group, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2005.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    News and Views: “Key Science Questions from the Second Conference on Early Mars: Geologic, Hydrologic, and Climatic Evolution and the Implications for Life,” Astrobiology, Vol. 5,No. 6, 2005.Google Scholar
  4. 6. (Exclusive: “NASA Researchers Claim Evidence of Present Life on Mars,” Brian Berger, Space News Staff Writer, posted: 16 February 2005, 02:09 PM ET.)
  5. 7. “The Mars man—A surface scratched—Scientist behind planetary probes,” Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff.
  6. 8.
    The Intelligent Universe, Fred Hoyle, Michael Joseph, London, 1983, ISBN 0 7181 22984.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
  8. 10.
    Origins. A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, William Heinemann, 1986, ISBN 0 4346 95203Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    “In the beginning,...”Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Cosmic Vision: Space Science for Europe 2015–2025, ESA BR-247, October 2005.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    News and Views: “Key Science Questions from the Second Conference on Early Mars: Geologic, Hydrologic, and Climatic Evolution and the Implications for Life,” Astrobiology, Volume 5,Number 6, 2005.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    “Why We’re Going Back to the Moon,” P. Spudis, Washington Post, December 27, 2005.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    The New Atlantis, Spring, 2005, pp. 15–48.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
  15. 17.
  16. 18.
    “Space exploration goals for the 21st century,” Michael J. Rycroft, Space Policy, 2006.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Praxis Publishing Ltd, Chichester, UK 2008

Personalised recommendations