Not one but four space missions will soon travel to Mars – and there’s a good chance that at least one of them might find life on the Red Planet, according to Dr. Jim Green, Chief Scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For a scientist like Green, that’s an exciting prospect. But his excitement is tempered by a certain foreboding. We’ll explain why in a moment.
The four exploratory Mars missions are being launched by NASA, the European Space Agency, China and the United Arab Emirates. All are due to take off in summer 2020. Green explained why that is to The Daily Telegraph newspaper in September 2019. “It’s like rush hour to Mars, but that’s when the alignment of the planets is just right and we can get there as fast as possible, not chase Mars around the Sun,” Green said.
The NASA spacecraft’s lander is due to touch down on Mars in February 2021. After entering the planet’s atmosphere at a speed of four miles per second, the vehicle will decelerate. Next, it will hover over the surface of the Jezero Crater while a rover is lowered via a crane. Green said, “We have a little wiggle room, but it’s still like hitting a golf ball in New York and having it land a hole in one in L.A..”
Once on the planet the NASA rover, dubbed Mars2020, will collect samples from Mars’ surface and store them for return to our planet. This will be the first time that material has been transported from the Red Planet back to Earth. Scientists will analyze the samples in a search for traces of the 300 minerals that would show there was once life on Mars.
Dr. Green has said that not only might we find evidence of life on Mars, but there may also be evidence of life on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Yet Green has his reservations. Speaking about the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life, he said, “It will start a whole new line of thinking. I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. We’re not.” And he worries about the impact on humanity of discovering that we are not alone in the universe.