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AstroFerret on Earth drawing Martian Design Challenge Webchat
October 29, 2003

Chat with NASA scientists to ask questions about human habitability on Mars, and possibly life-forms that might survive in the Martian environment.
More information on this event is available
Read bios of experts Geoff Briggs and Jon Rask
(.pdf format)

Wed Oct 29

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 64 - 12:23:10 ]
This chat room is provided to support the Design a Martian project. For more information on the schedule see http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/astrobiology/astroventure/challenge/index.html

[ YourName/LocationBoxoutoforder - 66 - 12:27:04 ]
Please help us by identifying yourself in the message box (not the Name/Location box) . Without giving us personal information, we would like to know if you are in a classroom and the state. Information like: name/teacher/gradelevel/state would really be appreciated.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 67 - 13:15:40 ]
Questions may be asked in advance - You will not see them, but we will. They will be placed in the Main Chat Room during the live event - not before. There is no need to repeat your questions. They will be held in a queue until Wednesday, October 29, when our experts will be online with you live.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 68 - 09:26:59 ]
PLEASE identify yourself in the body of your message, so I may include your questions in the main chat room. I have received several questions that are NOT related to the challenge described above. Please send unrelated questions to: kids-ask-nasa@quest.nasa.gov

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 77 - 08:16:23 ]
We have some wonderful questions from NYC Public School 56 Queens! This 5th grade class is really grappling with some of the issues for life on Mars. Wednesday we will see what help we can get from our NASA scientists. Stay tuned!

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 80 - 14:45:42 ]
Hello to Mrs. Laurino's, Mrs. Anderson's & Mrs. Holiday's classes. We are holding your questions for the webcast on Wednesday.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 85 - 07:53:44 ]
I am checking that the chat will take place at this URL in this format today (10/29). Look forward (tech willing) to participation with NYC Public School 56 Queens students. Thank you.
We'll look forward to seeing you too!

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 86 - 07:58:02 ]
Are you receiving this message? Please let me know if possible as we are a new school trying to access the webcast this afternoon and we are not sure if our registration, realplayer software, etc are working. Thanks so much - email is hwyllie@nc*****
This morning's (in California) event is a web chat not webcast. There is no other software necessary, as your interaction will occur here in this chat room in text. I will begin to post questions shortly before the 10AM Pacific time and our experts will join us and begin to answer questions then. We look forward to your participation.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 88 - 09:55:33 ]
We're ready to begin. Our experts are already on board!

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 93 - 09:57:13 ]
Hello Everyone, Greetings.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 94 - 09:57:50 ]
Geoff Briggs at NASA Ames is on line. I'm planetary scientist (not a biologist).

Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 102 - 10:05:02 ]
RE: 5th Grade Student David (Mrs. Alperstein's student), at NYC Public School 56 Queens, would like to know if the Martian is required to have mobility, and if that mobility has to be somewhat similar biologically to that of humans.
David - (Mrs. Alperstein's class) mobility does not necessarily have to be like that of a human. You can think in terms of a large or small creature.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 100 - 10:03:16 ]
RE: Bukhtawer, (Mrs. Neme Alperstein's student), Grade 5 at NYC Public School 56 Queens, wants to know if the life form can be bacterial or viral so that it's ability to survive, reproduce, and possibly mutate can be observed in a Martian atmosphere. Thanks!
Bukhtawer -- Life on Mars (past or present) at the microbial scale is a lot more plausible than anything more advanced so I think you should certainly give such life forms consideration. I don't know whether you could expect atmospheric measurements to tell you about all the aspects you mention (survival, reproduction, mutation).

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 102 - 10:05:02 ]
RE: Veronica (Mrs. Alperstein's student), at NYC Public School 56 Queens, would like to know if it has to have similar biological functions to humans (i.e. breathe with lungs, or can it have something like gills adapted for the Mars atmosphere to extract what it needs to sustain life).
Remember, if you are creating a creature that is large, you have to consider the food chaing that would be necessary to support such an organism.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 103 - 10:06:41 ]
RE: 2. Does Mars have an ozone layer? Jennifer,Darwin,Laura,and Ian of Mrs. Segerdahl's class
Jennifer and colleagues -- Mars does not have an ozone layer (unlike Earth) and, as a result, the Sun's UV radiation can reach the surface where most terrestrial life forms would soon be sterilized.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 107 - 10:11:04 ]
RE: Sarah/Mrs. Anderson's: In the 1940's a meteor from Mars was discovered and had been on earth for almost 10,000 years scientists studied the meteor and found bacteria that can only grow with liquid water, they believe from the evidence on the meteor that there was life on mars but couldn't the bacteria on the meteor had grown from its time on earth?
I am familiar with one example, ALH84001, a mars meteorite found in 1984 Antarctica. We do know the rock is from Mars, because we can compare it to what we know about Mars from Landers like Viking and Pathfinder. But the lines of evidence that suggested fossilized life was found in the rock are not as compelling as once thought and have been discounted. Yes it is true that many rocks on Earth have microbes growing inside them. The search goes on.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 111 - 10:15:44 ]
RE: Is there any kind of life on Mars now? Jess Wenonah School
We do not know if there is life on Mars. Because Mars has a thin atmosphere, the surface is bathed in UV raditaion which is very harmful to life we find on Earth. So possibily, if there were life on Mars and it lived on the surface, it would have to have some kind of UV protection mechanism (be it structural or molecular) or might live in other places that protected it, like underground, or in lava tubes. UV damages DNA.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 114 - 10:20:06 ]
RE: Through your years of working have you ever seen any evidence of bacteria on Mars? Bari, Will, Matt, and Lindsay from Mrs. Segerdahls class
We have no evidence of bacteria on Mars. However, it is quite likely that bacteria hitched a ride from Earth to Mars inside the spacecraft we sent to Mars. Also remember, in all the studies of Mars we are looking primarily at the surface, and have done no extensive studies to look for microbes in the subsurface.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 115 - 10:22:19 ]
RE: Jesse - Mrs Laurino's 7th grade If there is liquid water under the surface of Mars would it move or would it be stagnant? What would make the water move since there are no plates on Mars?
Jesse -- Most (and perhaps all) of the subsurface water on Mars is expected to be frozen because the planet is so cold. However, internal heating means that temperatures increase with depth so that at a few miles down it is warm enough for brines to exist. If the frozen subsurface is completely saturated, then any addition water at greater depths would be in liquid form. Gravity would cause such liquid water to fall to a level where the rocks no longer have any porosity (crushed by the overlying rocks) -- this is called the "basement". It is expected that there would be a convective circulation of moisture between the top of this water table and the bottom of the frozen water. But there may still be dormant volcanism on Mars so that ice would melt much closer to the surface of Mars and would lead to subsurface hydrothermal activity. A last point is that the permanent polar caps (especially the northern one which is known to be mainly made of water ice) could be so thick (miles) that the ice would melt at its base. Because of elevation differences, such subsurface water could move underground toward the equator under the influence of gravity. Summary: there are various ways in which subsurface liquid water could be mobile.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 120 - 10:25:39 ]
RE: Can my martian have a filter in its lungs so it could breathe what is on Mars
I suppose that one could imagine genetically modifying an organism to be able to breath martian air, but I do not have the expertise to know how you would have to modify any parts of the cells to be able to do that. But you raise an interesting idea. Could any of the extremeophiles found on Earth survive on Mars? Or could you combine the characteristics of several extremeophiles to create a microbe / creature that could survive the hostile conditions of Mars. A neat fact I learned in a workshop I recently attended was that some of the life on Earth eats rocks, breaths rocks, and makes rocks! That is, microbial life.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 123 - 10:28:20 ]
RE: Jesse - Mrs. Laurino's 7th grade I would like to know if i have to create a new life form, or can I use one that exists on Earth?
You may create a new one, or find a creature from Earth that could possibly survive the conditions. Decide if you want your creature to live on the surface or inside the planet, in the subsurface, and that will help you decide.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 127 - 10:32:42 ]
RE: Iam Tenzing and im in Mrs.Holidays class and our question is what is the chemical make up of the soil on mars and what builds it up?
The soil on Mars (called "regolith") was scooped up and its chemical composition was measured by the Viking landers. It is rather like ground up basaltic rocks not unlike that found on the slopes of the Hawaiian volcanoes. So, there are mainly mixtures of iron silicates, magnesium silicates, and aluminum silicates. (A silicate is a combination of silicon and oxygen -- like sand). Viking also measured the presence of a little calcium, titanium, sulphur (all presumably as oxides) and chlorine . The soil is the result of erosional forces working on the martian landscape -- wind and landslides today and fluvial activity in the past. Also, acidic gases emitted by volcanoes have caused weathering of the regolith.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 128 - 10:33:02 ]
RE: As the class teacher, I was wondering if the Martian the students design also has to have some form of communication skills. That came up in discussion. (That might indicate the existence of a colony of like Martians with a social structure similar to ants, bees, and even people.)
Interesting idea - I had not thought of that. Perhaps that may be useful to the organisms if they are large enough to communicate (like ants), so they can tell one another where water might be, or where a food source is. But this brings up an important point to think about: If you are creating large creatures (even ant sized), you have to consider that there must be a whole ecosystem to support such organisms, which should be something you address if you do so. Good idea.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 132 - 10:42:48 ]
RE: Hi my name is Haley in Mrs.Anderson 7th and 8th grade class. These are some of my questions I have for you. How did you reach your conclusions that their was water on Mars and also could we have a chance of living on Mars? Is there any proof of life on Mars?
Haley -- the martian landscape as photographed from orbit shows all sorts of features that we recognize as being similar to features created on Earth by fluvial activity -- remnants of vast floods, channels, glacial features, gullies, lake beds etc. Also there is a permanent north polar cap that is made of water ice. Today there is no proof of life on Mars and this search is the focus of NASA's Mars exploration program. We would not be able to live on Mars without a lot of supporting equipment to allow us to live in pressurized habitats and to feed ourselves. We could, in principle and probably in practice, extract the water we need from the martian environment and we could grow some food in special greenhouses. We would need an energy supply to support astronauts -- maybe a reactor since the Sun's radiation is less on Mars than on Earth.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 133 - 10:43:09 ]
This is an intersting question. We think that all the elements needed for plant biology are in Martian regolith. In fact, there have been studies in the past done here at Ames that showed plants can live in a simulated Mars regolith. (We know the composition of the regolith from Viking - see Geoff's reponse to the soil question) the big problem the plant must over come is the sterilizing UV radiation and lack of water. So, be thinking that the plant would have to resist radiation, lack of water, and be able to survive in very, very cold conditions.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 137 - 10:47:30 ]
RE: shon mrs. holiday's class Is it possible that an alien could be frozen in the ice caps on mars?
Very interesting. We know that here on Earth (in siberia) there are places researchers dig into permafrost and find microbes that are a few million years old and culture them! So it may be possible, but we just don't know.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 138 - 10:48:59 ]
RE: What is the average tempature on mars?
about minus 60 degrees C. But remember, there are some warmer places and some colder places.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 141 - 10:51:38 ]
RE: I am concerned about dust storms on Mars and the ability of my Martian not to be blown away. What weight or gravitational pull would it need to withstand such a storm? If my Martian were bacterial, what are some of the dangers in the atmosphere it needs to protect itself against in order to survive?
Regarding dust storms, the martian atmosphere is so thin that only the finest dust particles get lifted into the atmosphere. Sand-sized particles can "saltate" across the surface and as a result we see enormous dunes all over Mars in craters and in other lowland sites. An unprotected microbial entity on the martian surface would be small enough to get blown around the planet. On Earth there are colonies of microbes that live just below the surfaces of rocks -- in such a case even the strongest martian winds would not have much effect.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 142 - 10:51:45 ]
RE: Hi this is Haley from Mrs.Anderson's 7th and 8th grade classroom I was wondering if you recieved my questions.i am not being rude or any thing but could you answer my queastions please. I have to leave in a little bit and i really want to know what those answers are to those queastions. thank you very much i appreciate it!
Hi Haley, Check out Message #132!

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 143 - 10:53:47 ]
RE: Can the Martian have replaceable body parts so as to be able to be repaired? Can it have regenerative properties? Can we use technology developed for the space shuttle (the tiles that keep out the heat and UV?)
I suppose that may be possible but perhaps a better approach would be to incorporated radiation resistance, like the microbe Deinococcus radiodurans does.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 145 - 10:56:01 ]
Our Scientists are answering your questions as quickly as possible! We have just about 3 minutes left during this chat. If at all possible, we will try to post answers to some of the questions remaining later on this week. Thanks for your great questions.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 146 - 10:56:33 ]
RE: Celeste/Mrs. Anderson's What made you decide to work with NASA? What do you like most about your job? What is the hardest thing about your job?
I've always had a passion to work for NASA, even as a child. Working with other highly motivated people is a pleasure, and its fun to know that you and others are learning more about our place in the cosmos. Sometimes labwork is very demanding, and paperwork piles up.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 147 - 10:57:11 ]
RE: Celeste/Mrs. Anderson's What made you decide to work with NASA? What do you like most about your job? What is the hardest thing about your job?
Celeste -- I started to work in the Space program before we had even reached the Moon. The exploration of our solar system was (and still is) one of the most exciting taks that I could imagine. Getting involved in the exploration projects is the greatest fun since that is where the discoveries are made. Participating in the development of new technologies is also very satisfying. The greatest satisfaction is working with some brilliant colleagues.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 148 - 10:57:52 ]
We are typically answering questions that are representative of many questions. Please do not fill the moderation room with requests that are not questions for our experts. We will do what we can to answer as many questions as possible - without any begging, I promise.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 149 - 10:59:47 ]
RE: Mrs. Taylor's class (7/8th grades)May,Texas: Will you be looking on Mars for the type of bacteria that eats iron and makes water rust-colored and makes sulfuric acid? We thought that was neat on the video about Spain.
It isn't decided what kind of microbe to look for, we're just trying to understand simply how to find life if its there. Its a tough problem, but we would want to find it if it were there. If we design our instruments to find only one type, we might be missing others, so we have to have a tool that sees them all, if they are there. We don't have that tool yet.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 153 - 11:02:58 ]
RE: Can the Martian have replaceable body parts so as to be able to be repaired? Can it have regenerative properties? Can we use technology developed for the space shuttle (the tiles that keep out the heat and UV?)
Regarding replaceable body parts, why not? However, the first challenge is simply to design body parts that are functional.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 154 - 11:04:48 ]
RE: Thank you from Bellmore, New York!!
you're welcome.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 155 - 11:04:56 ]
I want to thank Jon Rask and Geoff Briggs for joining us today. We thank our classrooms also for their well thought out questions. This has been very informative, and if possible we will continue to post more answers in the next couple of days. If you didn't see your question posted, make sure you read the other questions answered - your answer may appear linked to someone else's question.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 157 - 11:08:39 ]
Hi everyone: Thanks for your questions. I can try to answer a few more that are biology-related. When you are designing your critter (microbial or bigger) first consider the conditions that it must survive in, and then begin to incorporate traits into the creature that allow it to survive in those conditions

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 160 - 11:10:55 ]
RE: Does Mars' core provide lasting heat?
Yes - there is residual heat inside the planet that may be critical to a warm subsurface environment that is deep in the planet. This could be a place where water would be liquid. Radioactive decay of elements provide much of the heat.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 162 - 11:12:38 ]
RE: Have scientists found any sources of fuel or energy on Mars?

We know there are near surface reservoirs of water ice in many locations.

[ GeoffBriggsNASAARC - 167 - 11:13:14 ]
RE: Could you explain the weather paterns on Mars? Thank you.-Danielle, Ariella, Morgan, Steven and Nick From Mrs. Segerdahl's and Mrs. Horowitz's classes
Danielle and friends -- the weather on Mars is like a much simplified version of the Earth's weather with the atmosphere serving to take the Sun's heat from one part of the planet to another through convection (Hadley cells) and by continental scale eddies. The biggest difference between Earth and Mars is the lack of oceans on Mars -- these have a profound influence on the Earth's atmospheric circulation. Another big difference is the fact that the martian atmosphere (carbon dioxide) condenses onto the planet's surface during the autumn and winter to be released in spring and summer; this leads to a massive atmospheric pressure cycle with the seasons.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 168 - 11:14:02 ]
RE: Can Mars' land be cultivated to support human life, if so how?
Ah. Mars farming. I know there is a need to do research for bio-regenerative life support for humans if they go there. Supposedly planst could grow, but one must overcome UV radiation and lack of water. There should be enough CO2.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 170 - 11:16:18 ]
RE: Joel at NYC Public School 56 Queens, has nanotechology in mind for functions. Can the Martian make use of that technology for temperature adaptations, body functions (programming?), etc.
if you are building a robot, then there are many possibilities in terms of technology. Biology on the other hand has a great deal of limitations. If you are considering a hybrid of biology and technology, then probably.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 171 - 11:17:23 ]
RE: Does our Martian need to be able to communicate with humans and must it be able to travel and survive both on Earth and on Mars?
Communication with Humans and or Earth is not necessary. it can be an indigenous Mars lifeform.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 173 - 11:18:31 ]
RE: Are our Martians allowed to contain fluids or substances that help it find energy (for instance: chlorophyl helps photosynthesis for plants. Maybe the Martian could have something help digest food or make energy.)
a critter that is photosynthetic and mobile to find water sources is an interesting idea. (can be tiny too)

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 177 - 11:19:26 ]
RE: Do we need to include details of how our Martian's body system works? (We could do that in a diagram, but do we need to write up details of its systems?) Will the interior system of the Martian have to be shown when we design it (like a transparent creature)?
I would ask Linda this.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 178 - 11:22:02 ]
RE: Are there any caves on Mars? Elizabeth/CA
Presumably. There are places where there have been massive collapse of the surface because of subsurface water erosion during catastrophic outflows of liquid water long ago in Mars' past. Also, there are probably lava tubes, or channels that lava flows in underneath and in old, hardened lava flows. I crawled in on in Arizona in the SF Peaks area. Definitely shielded from the surface - now the problem is getting water there.
Note: we don't see eruptions on Mars now though. All the volcanos on Mars are thought to be extinct or recently extinct. But we know some of the volcanoes are pretty young like in Elysium, maybe only a few million years old.

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 179 - 11:22:43 ]
RE: Do we need to include details of how our Martian's body system works? (We could do that in a diagram, but do we need to write up details of its systems?) Will the interior system of the Martian have to be shown when we design it (like a transparent creature)?
As in designing anything, it's always important to include as many details as possible so that others may understand how it works. You can find potential problems or places that need improvement by including specific details.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 181 - 11:25:23 ]
RE: Angela/Mrs. Anderson's 7th and 8th: Was there at one time, life on Mars? Have you found any proof of life on Mars, other than is documented in your research?
No evidence of Life has been found on Mars.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 182 - 11:25:52 ]
RE: Does my Martian have to have to be a certain size? Does it have to be able to move around? Does it have to have a certain number of body parts? What type of life form does it have to be(bacteria)?
Small is probably best, unless you have a great idea.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 183 - 11:27:02 ]
RE: Can our Martian have limitations (like humans) connected to how survives on the planet? Does it need problem solving skills to cope with problems it might encounter?
Intelligence is not a requirment. Microbes might be the best bet, and they are not considered intelligent.

[ Jon_Rask/NASAAmes - 185 - 11:29:40 ]
RE: Can our Martian have limitations (like humans) connected to how survives on the planet? Does it need problem solving skills to cope with problems it might encounter?
There are some kinds of microbes and other organisms that will go into a dormancy, or form a cyst-like layer protecting them from a dry environment, for example, to wait until the right conditions come to being its life cycle again.


We thank u

Good Bye and have a great day!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

5th grade Wenonah School - This is really exciting. We have never done this before. Thanks for your help.

Thankyou for answering our questions. Morgan, Ariella, Danielle, Nick, Steven Mrs.Segerdahl


Thank you from Bellmore, New York!!

vince: thank you for answering my qustion for the average tempeture question.

Thank you from May, Texas!

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 184 - 11:29:08 ]
Our scientists have meetings at noon, so we are going to let them go now. We will place an archive of this chat online soon and possibly include additional answers then. Please check back at the project page at: http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/projects/astrobiology/astroventure/challenge/index.html later. Thanks for joining us!

[ Linda/NASAQuest - 179 - 11:22:43 ]
RE: Will a transcript of these messages remain online for us to print out? There are some very useful answers to our project development. Thank you very much.
This archive should be useful for those purposes. We had over 400 questions received for this chat. Our experts did their best to answer as many of them as possible, and they have offered to try to find the time to address some of the questions we didn't have time to get to. I will let our registered classrooms know when these have been added.

Thanks again for joining us!!

More questions and answers may follow

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