Colonizing Mars on top of NASA agenda: chief scientist

Colonizing Mars on top of NASA agenda: chief scientist

PanARMENIAN.Net - NASA may not be planning to put a human on Mars until the 2030s, but the agency’s top scientist said colonizing the planet is a key part of its agenda – as well as its search for extraterrestrial life, RT reported.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, NASA’s chief scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan emphasized that the quest to find alien life is focused primarily on our own solar system, where potential targets include Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Titan. In order to most effectively survey Mars for signs of life, though, Stofan said putting humans on the ground, and establishing a presence there, is a big priority.

In response to a question about whether or not NASA plans to bring back astronauts that reach the Red Planet, Stofan said, “We would definitely plan on bringing them back. We like to talk about pioneering Mars rather than just exploring Mars, because once we get to Mars we will set up some sort of permanent presence."

NASA has expressed such interest before, most recently proposing to send a small greenhouse to the planet in order to experiment with cultivating plant life – something that would be essential to establishing a permanent colony in the future.

Although Mars doesn’t currently seem to be a great habitat for existing life, Stofan argued it’s still possible things may be living beneath the surface – something that can only be explored effectively by humans, not robots.

Currently, the American space agency is planning to put a human on Mars in 2035 – a plan that depends on the successful completion of a few different missions, as well as stable funding over the course of the next couple of decades. As RT reported earlier this month, a new study by the U.S. National Research Council found that under NASA’s current budget trajectory, reaching the Red Planet would be unlikely.

Looking elsewhere, the chief scientist added that a visit to Europa is “clearly our next step,” with Titan not far behind.

Just last week, NASA scientists unveiled a new plan that would allow the agency to send a quadcopter drone to Titan in order to search for life. The drone would be capable of flying over Titan’s landscape and seas, collect samples, and deliver the samples to a nuclear-powered “mothership” – either a larger lander or a balloon – where it can recharge its batteries for another flight. Researchers are continuing to move forward with the idea, but such a mission would also be decades away from becoming a reality. No launch would occur until the 2040s.

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