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AstroFerret on Earth drawing Martian Design Challenge Webcast
December 3, 2003

Webcast 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)


>> Hello there, welcome to design a Martian webcast.
I'm Astro Ferret and I'll be your host.
You might recognize me from my website, Astro-Venture.
We're glad you can join us.
Today we'll learn about Mars and the possibility of life there.
Then we'll talk about your Martian designs.
We'll answer some of your questions and wrap up with some exciting information about how NASA is studying Mars and life in other places besides earth.
Our expert hosts are NASA scientist Geoff Briggs and Jon Rask.
Let's get started with our Astro-Venture design a Martian webcast.
>> Hello, everyone.
Welcome to the webcast.
I'm Jon Rask and I work with the Space Station biological research project and the fundamental space biology one mission that will be on the Space Station.
And we're going to be talking to you about Mars and the potential of life on Mars.
I'm also here with Geoff Briggs, a planetary science with the center for Mars exploration.
We'll also be taking your questions in the chatroom and Linda will be helping us with that.
So please do ask questions.
We'll try to answer as many as we can.
So now what I would like to do is do a review of what we're going to be doing for this webcast.
First of all, we're going to hear from Geoff about what is up with Mars and then I'm going to talk a little bit about life and astrobiology and some of the features of life and then what we'll do is review your designs and we will do a question and answer, and then we'll also talk about what NASA is doing now.
So let's hear about an overview of Mars.
>> Right, Jon, what is happening right now this very minute is that Mars is preparing itself for another invasion of spacecraft.
There are four spacecraft on their way there right at the moment getting there at the end of December and through January.
And the reason that there is such interest is because Mars, this red desert planet, perhaps the only place in the solar system, where we have a chance of really getting our hands on another form of life.
We're eagerly interested to find out whether life did originate on Mars or perhaps did not.
Equally interesting answers.
So the -- just to review very briefly a little bit about Mars, if I could have the next slide.
Mars as you probably know is one of nine planets.
There are four inner terrestrial type planets which the earth is one, mercury, Venus and Mars.
Then you have the outer planets.
Mars is a small planet that lies between us and Jupiter.
So just to provide some comparison, next slide, please.
A comparison of the two planets, earth and Mars, in many ways they're quite similar.
You can see that Mars is a fair bit smaller but it has a day that is almost exactly the same length as that of just 40 minutes longer, about.
The year is quite a bit longer because Mars is so much further away from the sun.
It's about 50% further away than earth is.
So it takes longer to get around.
But it does, like Earth, have seasons.
The seasons on Earth are caused by the tilt of the axis of our rotation and Mars had a similar tilt.
So there are seasons, four seasons a year, each about twice as long as the terrestrial seasons.
As probably most of you know, the principle -- could I have the next slide, please?
Mars is a planet that's had a long and diverse history.
It started -- it was formed about the same time as Earth and initially had a very heavy impact cratering events by astroids bombarding the planet.
Probably at that very early stage it was very much like earth and there may well have been a lot of water at that time.
Today we see a red desert planet.
Very cold, very dry, and the big question that we're trying to understand is where is the water on Mars?
What has been the history of water on Mars?
And we're particularly interested in that because of its implications for life.
If I could have the next slide.
You probably know that Mars has these giant volcanoes, much, much bigger than the ones on Earth, typically.
This is the most famous one, Olympus.
And it has a giant canyon system.
This canyon system is so large that it would stretch from one side of the United States to the other.
Much, much bigger than the grand canyon, which would be lost as a little tributary on the side.
We think the canyon system on Mars was probably an important factor in the history of water.
It appears to have been caused, in part, by water.
If I could have the next slide.
We know that Mars has two polar caps.
A lot of the water that may remain on Mars could well be locked up in the two permanent polar caps, the northern one on the left and the southern one on the right.
These are quite complex features and we're still trying very much to understand the history of those objects.
The atmosphere, if I could have the next slide, the atmosphere is very thin.
About 1/100 of the den -- density of our own atmosphere.
It has enough water vapor that it forms hazes in the atmosphere and allows for the frost on the surface in the very early morning.
It could well be this tiny amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.
It's mainly made up of carbon dioxide.
This may be something that would be useful for living entities on the surface of the planet.
But it's cold and relatively inaccessible.
The next slide shows that with the kind of high resolution imaging we've been getting from the orbiters we have at Mars, it's possible to see tiny dust devils on the surface.
These are something that appear all the time.
And suggest that the planet surface can be quite a rough place to be.
And periodically these dust devils cause giant dust storms.
The slide here shows the difference between what Mars looked like back at -- this was back in the middle of 2001, and then a little while later you could hardly see the surface because the whole planet was covered in a giant dust storm.
We do see, when we look at the surface, many evidences of water.
This is a picture of about 100 miles across and you see what appears to be the formation of a channel just emerging straight out of the ground.
We see also two other features as in the next couple of slides.
You see these tear drop shaped islands in the middle of channels.
Many kilometers wide.
These are really big.
And also you see evidence in the next slide of -- if you look closely you'll see patterns of drainage, look like drainage patterns that indicate that there could even have been some kind of precipitation from the atmosphere at different times.
This is very controversial.
So when we think about what Mars might have been like, we wonder, could it have looked like this a few billion years ago?
Could there have been giant floods on the surface of Mars where the northern hemisphere was perhaps a complete ocean?
Today we think most of the water is locked up beneath the surface.
This is the diagram that shows the different temperature zones in the different levels of the planet.
The top one we think is the form of ice.
Perhaps some miles down we might actually have liquid water.
This is one of the things we really don't know and that's the direction of the exploration going on.
Jon.
>> Thanks, Geoff.
What I would like to do now is talk a little bit about astrobiology.
And life itself and what we know about life and the things that we're doing here on earth to try to better understand what it takes to find life.
If it is on Mars.
So when we look at the two planets together, the first thing you notice is that they're very different when we compare Earth to Mars.
Notice, of course, that one planet is essentially blue and the other one is red.
One is rough and the other has water.
We think water is one of the fundamental factors necessary for biology.
What we do on earth is go to places that are like Mars and so on the next slide we think that water is one of the main factors necessary for life and it does interesting things to rocks.
We can look at rocks and learn about what water has done to them and those same lessons we learn on earth can also be applied in missions to Mars.
On the next slide is a picture from an orbiting spacecraft around Mars from the Odyssey spacecraft.
Everywhere you see dark blue are regions of hydrogen rich subsurface soil and we think that's an indication of water ice.
So Mars probably has lots of water beneath its surface but we don't see running water on the surface today.
However, there is evidence there may be some instances of that from place to place in the past.
In the next slide are some pictures of places on earth that we think are somewhat like Mars in that they're very cold and they're very dry.
Even though there is lots of snow they're incredibly dry.
Antarctica is an interesting place we go to study.
One of those places is the McMyrtle valley that is much like Mars.
The closest thing to what Mars might be like on earth so we study things that are living there to learn about the limitations of life.
There is another interesting place that Geoff will talk about later in the Canadian arctic and the studies going on there we'll learn about in a minute.
Then the next slide there are places on this planet where there is rich subsurface PERMA frost.
There might be subsurface microbes frozen in the frost such as in this picture here from the Yukon in Canada.
The next slide I would like to discuss just a few things that we know are features of life.
There is a problem with trying to define life because no one has been able to define it.
We really don't know what life is.
What we can do is describe it.
Describe fundamental features of it.
And the most fundamental that we know we've already addressed is that it needs liquid water.
It's made of cells and carbon based.
It needs some kind of energy in the form of sunlight or some kind of organic substance or inorganics like minerals.
It produces waste products, heat and changes through time.
An interesting thing about evolution through time on the next slide shows how life on earth is all related.
Previously we thought there were five kingdoms but scientists have shown that there are actually three distinct domains of life on earth that actually are related genetically.
And we can show this in the labs.
Now what I would like to do is discuss a few interesting things that life does with respect to geology and planets.
And rocks.
One of those interesting life forms on this planet is a colony of microbes that form rocks.
We find these throughout the entire history of these planet.
Some of them are very small.
Just a few inches across to maybe many inches across.
The picture on the right is a fossilized one where it shows the layers of the microbes.
Another interesting thing that microbes do is hide in rocks.
In the next slide we see a picture of a rock that I've cracked open on the upper right.
As you go down there is an increasing magnification and you can see green critters in there.
They've hidden in the rock because where the rock was found is very cold and sometimes very hot and dry.
There is actually living organisms inside of it if you look closely.
Another interesting thing that life does here on earth is that it lives deep beneath the subsurface.
One of those groups of microorganisms are called slimes.
Subsurface life that lives that mineral-rich environments.
Studying these microbes to the left and right in the middle of the picture we have to incorporate understanding of ecology and geology and other sciences that come together in what we call astrobiology, understanding the implications of life on this planet as well as how that may be related to Mars.
Now the next picture what I would like to do is quickly show you how we have summed up what has happened up earth with respect to life.
In this diagram, if we start at this point where the earth has formed, this is the entire time that earth has existed.
What we see is life appeared on earth very early in its history and it's increased in complexity to the point of where humans have been on this planet for just a blink of a period ever time.
But what is interesting about this entire time, all the life on the planet has been shaping the planet.
We see the effects of that in the rocks as the atmosphere has changed over time.
In the next slide I would quickly like to just summarize by one neat artist's rendition of what has happened on this planet with respect to life and what we see in the lower left corner are a variety of simple compounds coming together to form more complex compounds.
The earth was a violent, hot and strange place, comets bombarding it and bringing water to the planet.
Then it had ions of time for evolution to take its place until more complex life forms as shown up onto the surface of the planet.
From that artist's rendition what I would like to do is go to some of the other designs that the students have put forth.
I would like to thank you for all your efforts on that.
What we've done is grouped them according to a few interesting ways that they've adapted to the hostile conditions of Mars.
The first one is water.
Mrs. Wiley's class has a goblet flower where roots go hundreds of feet below the surface to find water.
We have the reach long distances to try to access liquid water.
The one thing you might want to think about is, is it even possible to bring liquid water to the surface?
Would it freeze or not freeze?
The next one has an interesting microbe that melts ice by body heat and -- another team melts ice through -- there were other groups that contributed to this particular grouping as well as the Windsor force team B, and many teams.
The next group that were interesting in terms of their organization were protection.
The Windsor force team B has an interesting critter who has fur and can shed it when it gets too hot and grow more when it gets cold.
It also produces an interesting chemical to protect it from U.V. rays.
Another team has an interesting critter to stick to rocks so it doesn't get blown away in dust storms.
It also has a skeletal that protects it from U.V. rays.
There were also other groups.
Another group of interesting creatures were those that had adaptations with respect to location.
There was a group that had an interesting microbial colony living under the surface of Mars in liquid water.
There was another team that had an interesting thing that has one that -- lives in an underground cave near the north pole.
Others that other had location features that they considered were other groups.
(Reading off the names of groups)

>> Another interesting groups of critters were those that considered the energy source.
Mrs. Shaw's group, which is Kimberly, Adam and Corey has a creature that eats soil rich in iron.
Another one had something that eats iron oxide and gets its energy from the sun.
An interesting combo of chemical synthesis as well as photo synthesis.
Other groups, the creature sucks up nutrients sucks up things from the ground and also uses photo synthesis.
Others considered the energy source adaptation.
(Reads off the names of the groups)
>> Everybody -- many people considered that particular adaptation.
The next one was breathing.
We thought they were interesting way to classify organisms and Mrs. Shaw's millennium middle school had a creature that breathes CO2 and has a long snout to prevent ice from forming inside the nose.
Mrs. Wiley and Mr. penfield's group has a blob that sucks in CO2 through microscopic holes in its skin.
(Reading off different classes)
They all considered breathing in their designs.
Now we would like to go to a couple of groups who did some interesting, well researched ideas.
The first one we would like to review is a creature that originates when water in a thicker atmosphere was present on Mars.
It grows when Mars is closest to the sun and gets its energy from rocks or water and sunlight, depending on Mars's orbital position.
It's interesting they've considered orbital effects in their design.
It decides what chemicals an organism will need and keep or ex crete.
And then it also contains ability in electromagnetic field or shell to protect it from the harsh environment or radiation.
Ms. Anderson's 7th and 8th grades had a creature that transferred sunlight into chemical energy and store food in its body for several weeks.
If light is low it can eat iron and it only needs to eat three times per month.
The circulatory system has two sets of veins and a shell over its eye for protection.
The life span is about two years and it lays 100 eggs to reproduce only half of which survive in the harsh conditions.
Females die after laying eggs and the males die from old age.
Heated suction cups on the hands dig for and melt ice and it can also store water in sacks inside the body.
The next one, Mrs. Wiley's group and Mr. penfield's group had a creature that gains energy from the sun and can hide and acts as a solar panel.
While its hide act as a solar panel.
It can store energy for use as nighttime and it also absorbs minerals.
Excretion is used to create a new creature and it can roll up into a ball during dust storms.
It can see in infrared and has sharp teeth.
>> OK.
Thank you very much, Jon, for that review of student work.
We really have been very impressed with the thought that went through it.
I've enjoyed watching your comments in the forum as you commented on each other's work and responded back and forth to each other.
That was exactly what we wanted to see happening and it obviously you were giving a lot of thought to it and we were very pleased.
We loved the drawings, too.
They did a great job on it.
We think -- you probably saw in the slides at the beginning we had a couple of prototypes built as well.
That's always the fun part of the design.
And we thank you for all your hard work.
We're going to take some questions now from the question and answer room, or the chatroom.
So if you have been absorbed in what is going on and forgotten to write your questions in, this is a good time to do it.
I will pose the question and either Jon or Geoff will handle it, depending on which one feels they have the most to say about it.
But let's start -- I have an interesting one here that the answer may be I don't know because you guys have been very absorbed in putting together this webcast for the students this morning.
But somebody says, this morning we received a NASA email about membranes that researchers are developing to filter air that could allow for possible use on Mars or even earth.
Could you elaborate on that development?
Throwing you a curve.
>> I don't know much about that particular technology.
However, there certainly is a lot of research that is going on into using what resources Mars has on its surface and beneath its surface for future missions to Mars where humans may be exploring.
That might be a possibility in the future.
Right now I don't know.
Certainly we want to use the resources that Mars has once humans go there to explore the surface.
>> Anything?
No, OK.
Let's see here.
We have -- I'm trying to keep up with them.
I'm seeing some good questions coming in.
We have one unfortunately somebody didn't identify themselves.
They said would it be possible for a creature on Mars to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen?
>> Good question.
I suppose that one could imagine a microbe or something that could do that.
They use methane by also using carbon sources.
I'm not aware of any particular organisms that could do it especially on the surface of the planet since it's so incredibly hostile.
We'd need to research that one more.
>> OK.
Here is a question again, unidentified.
What type of seat -- feet would be good for Mars terrain?
We had some people designing feet.
>> If we considered one of the Martians that would actually be able to live on the surface, from what I know about Mars, the surface of Mars is very dusty but also is very rocky so you would need to accommodate for those very sharp rocks as well as being able to walk through thick dust and so on.
But the likelihood of a large organism being able to actually live and walk around on the surface of Mars may not be as possible as we think.
But something that could be able to adapt to the very rocky, blocky, sharp rocks on the surface and the extremely dusty conditions would be something you would want to consider in a design.
>> I suppose there are creatures in terrestrial deserts that have to deal with similar conditions and I would think perhaps creatures without legs like snakes might function nicely on Mars.
>> We watched also the also robots operating on the Mars surface and probably got a good feel for whether that works or not.
OK.
Here is one that might be the end all question.
We want to know what you think a Martian would look like.
>> Should we both answer that or should I?
I'll answer that first.
That's an excellent question.
Everything that I know about biology suggests and shows that all living organisms are able to be alive because they're interacting with other living creatures.
If there is life on Mars, it means that there is probably an ecosystem.
It means there is more than one kind of life form.
But I'm thinking that the type of life form that may exist, if it does.
Would have to be a relationship between several different microorganisms.
A good example on earth in a LICON.
It incorporates a fungus and algae to be able to live in these very hot environments of deserts as well as very cold places like the arctic and Antarctic.
They also can reproduce by breaking off asexually and sexually depending on the species.
I suspect if there is a life form on or in Mars the best one would be a sim bee on I can relationship and so far beneath the surface where liquid water is available.
Since we don't see an abundance of liquid water on the surface of Mars and because the surface is completely sterilized by U.V. radiation.
There is a good bet if there is life it's my -- microbes that live beneath the surface where life is available.
>> I couldn't answer completely but that is what I would expect, too, and that's the direction of some of our technology development that I'll talk about later.
>> OK, great.
It sure would help us, folks, if you can identify yourself in the chatroom.
It is nice to have a name to attach to the answer as well.
I have a question here from Carlton that says can the chemical reaction of biolum essence create heat in a creature on Mars?
>> I did a little research in that and I know that it -- because there is light being produced, definitely is a chemical reaction of some sort.
As far as the amount of heat that is produced during that reaction, it's very limited and the amount of things produced that produces the light is so small the amount of heat it would actually produce probably wouldn't be able to melt much ice.
So if we're designing Martians or thinking about life forms, however I could be wrong.
I'm not an expert in that, we would have to find another way for them to be able to extract or use liquid water or produce it themselves.
>> OK.
This might be one for you, Geoff, here.
It says I know this is about Martians but I was wondering about life on Saturn.
It is the densest planet.
Do you think anything could live on that planet?
What would it take to have life there?
>> Well, Saturn, of course, is one of the gas giants like Jupiter and there is no solid surface on these giant planets until you descend thousands of kilometers to what may be a relatively small, rocky core.
Any life that would exist in the giant planets would have to be airborne life.
And so you could imagine that it could be some kind of a floating jellyfish kind of entity that could find enough energy sources and organic materials.
It's not totally inconceivable to me that there could be but I haven't seen any serious proposals along that line.
>> OK.
We're getting some names now.
That's great.
Hi, my name is LUICA.
If there was a Martian on Mars, would it be able to do photo synthesis like plants on earth?
>> I can try to answer that.
I think theoretically, absolutely that's possible.
Because Mars does receive sunlight.
If Mars receives sunlight there should be enough energy, even though it's less than the amount of sunlight we receive on earth because Mars is so much further away from the sun than earth is, it would -- the organisms that would do the photo synthesis would do it in a very limited capacity.
And, of course, to do photo synthesis you need to be liquid water.
That's a problem.
But there are conditions, we think, where liquid water may have existed at some time in the very near past on the surface of Mars.
So I suppose it's conceiveable that yes, photo synthesis would be possible on the surface.
>> OK.
Lots of biology questions here.
Brandon wants to know, will an outer covering like an exo skeleton protect a creature in a dormant stage on Mars.
>> I would say it's an interesting idea to have a dormant creature.
Mars has had in the past what we think is a much more wet environment and probably there are times when Mars also becomes more wet.
And also, there are -- that means also that their atmosphere may have changed through time which means that there is a need to now protect itself -- protect if you're an organism on Mars protect from U.V. radiation.
Some type of hide to be a good idea to protect it.
I don't know of any particular biological adaptations that do that.
Our atmosphere protects us from those rays.
There are some microbes that live in nuclear reactors that can withstand larger doses of radiation than a human would and still be able to go on with its lifestyle.
Considering radiation protection it may be something that is more necessary in its genetics rather than its exterior.
>> OK, great.
Here is another one from someone we don't -- doesn't identify themselves.
They talk about what they think a Martian would look like.
Do you personally believe that there is life on Mars?
And we just haven't found them?
>> I'll let Geoff answer that one.
>> That sounds good.
>> Since I'm not a biologist I probably have a little more room to exercise personal beliefs.
But, yes, I am inclined to think that at some time in the history of Mars that there probably was life.
It's not inconceivable to me that there is life today.
The reason I think that is that life appeared on earth so early on.
As far as we see from the record of the fossil microbes in rocks, it appears that life originated on earth not long after the end of the heavy bombardment of astroids that all the planets experienced and which we see in the craters of the moon and Mars.
So given that life originated so early on earth and given that probably early Mars was quite a bit like earth, I see no obvious reason why it would not have come into being then.
So that's really what is the thrust of our exploration is to find out whether those rather simplistic ideas have any merit or not.
That's my thinking.
Jon.
>> I would agree with that.
If you remember back to the slide where I showed the clock of the time of earth, if you remember I said life on earth basically showed up as soon as it possibly could have because early in the earth's history the earth was -- the surface was molten.
It was extremely hot and the rocks that make up the earth now were liquid rocks and when the rocks cooled they were able to do chemistry and so on with available nutrients and so on and also things available in those rocks could be fossilized.
The oldest life forms on the planet appeared at about -- this is controversial, we think we found evidence of microbial fossils 3.8 billion years ago.
That's a long time ago.
And so if that's the case, I agree with Geoff.
We think Mars was much wetter in its distant past.
It is quite possible that at that time in Mars's history there could have been microbial life form.
That's the only kind of life form there was on earth at about the same time.
Complex life forms that we see today have only been around for just a blink of a period of time with respect to the age of the entire planet.
>> Great, great.
I have a question here from Fred.
I guess this sort of assumes that maybe there are aliens.
He wants to know whether you think aliens would be hostile.
>> Well, it seems to me unlikely that we should have to worry about hostile aliens.
What we've been talking about mainly here is very primitive forms of life that might exist elsewhere.
We have very little idea of how frequent the evolution of life to intelligent forms might be intelligent forms that could develop technology and travel over interstellar distances.
It is hard to imagine why they would want to come here and be hostile to us.
So it doesn't seem something to worry about to me.
Jon.
>> I would agree with that in many ways.
Plus the other thing to consider is the age of the entire universe with respect to the age of earth.
Earth about 4 1/2 billion years older.
The age of the universe is many more billion years older than that.
Between 10 and 12 and maybe 13 billion years old depending upon which evidence you use to calculate that number.
And that might suggest that life forms that could have originated in other planets may have continued to evolve for billions of years longer than life forms here on earth.
That might also suggest that life forms that have gone through evolution so much longer could possibly be far more intelligent than we could ever imagine and there would be no need to be hostile or anything of the such.
>> Great.
I think a related question that might be another point is do you think that it would be possible for a Martian to have the ability to feel, like emotions?
Are humans the only living things that have feelings and emotions?
>> Well, it's clear to me humans aren't the only things that have emotions.
I mean, you only have to look at domestic animals to know that other creatures have emotions and we're very closely related to the whole ape family.
In fact, you could say we are just a form of ape.
So I have no doubt that the other members of the ape families experience emotions, too.
When you get down to the level of microbes, I'm sure they don't have emotions.
But the point at which you pass from having a really advanced form of life that thinks, has emotions and so on, to primitive forms, where that divide is, I would hesitate to offer an opinion.
>> Well said.
>> OK.
We've got quite a few questions coming in quickly now here.
Hi, I'm Alex from millennium middle school.
We're happy to have our creature puft on the NASA website.
I have a question from Doug in my class.
He wants to know do you think it's possible for a creature to fly on another planet?
>> Well, if we talk about other planets than Mars, it would certainly be possible to fly in any of the atmospheres of the giant planets or the moon of Saturn because they have quite thick atmospheres so if you had some living entity there they would have no great difficulty flying.
In the case of Mars, the atmosphere is so thin that it would be an incredible challenge to do that.
Although if you imagine some kind of an inflatable entity that use -- they've worked about putting flying vehicles in Mars, fixed wing kind of airplanes and rotorcraft.
The atmosphere is thick enough for us to develop machines to fly in Mars.
But it is hard for me to imagine living creatures flying in the Martian atmosphere.
>> OK.
If it were possible, would you go to Mars?
>> Jon would, I'm sure.
>> I think that would be an exciting opportunity if one would ever have the chance.
You have to remind yourself that during a mission to Mars where it would involve humans it means you'll be away from earth for a very long period of time and you're going to be going to a place that has a climate and an environment so hostile that in general any living organism from earth would probably die as soon as it was exposed to the environment on its surface.
So when you consider that risk, you begin to wonder if that risk is worth it.
But when you consider also what we can learn about the planet and what we can learn about how Mars may be a possible place where life has originated or has also been at some time in the past, we begin to think that taking those risks are worth it so we can actually build a goal and go for the opportunity to explore Mars and learn about these fundamental questions that humans have been asking for -- since the dawn of time.
Is there life elsewhere in the universe?
How did it start?
And what's the future of it?
By going to Mars as a human explorer, I think that's the best technique that any way to explore the planet could be done.
Robots are good explorers.
We need to learn more about the conditions and so on to be able to send humans in the future.
So I would say yes, I would love to go if I could.
But it would take a very long time of training and it would be very dangerous.
>> In that same light, someone wants to know if you ever thought people would live on Mars if earth became too populated.
>> I suspect that before one would establish giant colonies on Mars you probably would be thinking in terms of big Space Stations in earth orbit.
But there was a fairly serious study carried out a couple of decades ago on how you might actually establish very large Space Stations.
And I would say that was halfway plausible.
But we would have to do an awful lot of work on Mars before we could create something that was large enough for very many people to live in.
One imagines the first missions will just be a handful of astronauts.
If you could figure out a way of covering in one of the large craters with a dome you could imagine, perhaps, creating an environment in there where people would not have to live in space suits all the time.
If one looks far enough into the future I suppose anything is possible.
In the next 100 years I think it won't happen, but beyond that it will perhaps.
And it will happen independent, I think, of the earth becoming overcrowded or not.
That will just be a factor.
>> OK.
Along this same line, what is the greatest obstacle for humans to everycome -- overcome to live on Mars?
>> There is a variety of obstacles.
The first and most obvious one is actually getting there.
To travel to Mars requires a very lengthy transit between earth and Mars.
If you're able to overcome that and then being able to actually survive on the surface is the next challenge.
I would say that the biggest challenge itself is to understand.
This is probably the most fundamental problem with space flight right now in terms of humans going to space, is understanding what happens to biology when you put it on another planet or another moon.
What happens to it?
We've gone to the moon before.
We've spent several days and weeks cumulatively with the many missions we've sent there but we haven't stayed there for any length of time.
If we go to Mars, we probably will go and we'll stay there in the context of missions going there, developing civilization and so on.
Which means we need to understand what happens to biology when we introduce it into these reduced gravity environments.
It is one of the things that the group of people I'm working with are trying to study.
What is the fundamental role that gravity plays in the development of biology as well as its reproduction and so on.
Our team is trying to answer those questions.
The bottom line is we don't know.
And we're trying to understand that.
That might be a good opportunity for you as young scientists to get involved.
So we'll need biologists to work and also planetary scientists to work with the biologists to understand what happens to living creatures when you take them to these foreign environments.
>> This probably a good time, actually, to ask you, Jon, if you would tell us a little bit about what you're doing along these lines here at NASA.
>> I have a video so let's go to the video.
The team of people I work with are scientists and engineers.
And we're trying to develop hardware that will do biology experiments on the Space Station.
And we want to do science experiments on the Space Station because we can vary the gravity level.
Some of the organisms we work with, yeast, I'm working with a space petri dish.
We can use a lot about biology in reduced gravity environments by studying them on the Space Station and learning about what causes them to change when we look at their genetics and how their shape changes and so on.
One of the tools that this interesting piece of hardware, which is a prototype for the cell culture unit.
You can see me pointing to the chambers that actually grow the cells.
There is a whole bunch of electronics and hardware designed to grow the cells.
There are also other pieces of hardware that grow plants and here is one called the biomass production system that grows plants.
We learn a lot about plants in space.
We need to learn about them because if we go on long-term missions we'll need plants to help us in bioregenerative life support systems.
One of the plants we're studying is this.
Here is an example of how a very small plant is helping us to provide huge answers to questions that we're posing about space flight with respect to humans.
Here is an example of what they look like in a canister.
We think they'll be grown in on the Space Station.
Also organisms that have short life spans as flies are useful to study because we'll find out what happens to organisms over many generations.
If we go to Mars, we're going to be there and probably stay there.
So generations of humans will go by.
And when we study flies, we're not only studying just them even though they look very different.
Their genetics and the way their genetics respond to environments is similar to how human genetics respond.
The lessons we learn from those little guys we think tell us what may happen to the genetics of humans and it is cheaper and easier to study little organisms like flies because they're just that much smaller.
Another organism that our team is working with are a type of worm that lives in the soil all over the planet.
And here is an example of how small they are.
They are a few hundred cells in size.
Again, a powerful tool that they are to be able to tell us what is happening to biology when we introduce it to these strange environments such as on the Space Station?
And we can put them in hardware like this incubator and place it in a centrifuge on the Space Station so organisms will feel like they're standing on the moon or standing on Mars.
That gives us an opportunity to test that gravity variable.
Since biology is many times a messy job, some of you might already know that.
We have to contain our experiments in a work volume such as this one that is being used on this segment.
We have special devices that you can work with to access the specimens and input data into computer systems so that we can transmit that data back to earth and scientists here on the planet.
All this hardware is going to go into a module somewhat similar to the size of this one on the Space Station.
And so on the Space Station all these pieces of hardware are coming together to form a laboratory that is going to study what happens to biology when you introduce it to these strange and reduced gravity environments.
By doing experiments on the Space Station we can study these questions whereas there was no way to study these questions on the surface of the planet because you can't simulate anything less than 1G on earth but you can do it on the Space Station.
>> Terrific.
OK.
How about you, Geoff?
Could you share with us a little bit about what you are doing?
>> Yeah, we talked earlier about -- there has been quite a lot of discussion and some of the designs had to do with the idea that on Mars, organisms might have to find a place to live underneath the surface because of the extremely hostile environment at the surface.
What I'm going to talk about is the technology that is being developed in association with people at the Johnson Space Center for a drill that we would like to send to Mars one day and penetrate below the surface and see if we can bring back some samples and see if there is any evidence of life in them.
If I could have the first slide, please.
OK.
This is just to remind you what we've been talking about all along, how hostile the surface is.
A red desert, no ozone layer.
You have all the radiation from the sun.
Next slide.
That is impinging pretty much directly on the surface.
So you have both high energy protons coming from the sun and you also have this ultraviolet radiation that can tear up anything of an organic nature.
Given that hostile environment we're heaping that we have to look below the surface.
The next slide reminds the difference between what early Mars might have looked like some billions of years ago and what it looks like today.
If life had chanced to originate on Mars in that early time, maybe in the billions of years between then and now it might have found a way to migrate to subsurface.
And even as the subsurface cooled and water ice became deeper and deeper conceivably organisms might have been able to go deeper and deeper, warmer and warmer and maintain themselves.
So the idea then is to build a drill that we can take to Mars and operate there.
Now, this is what a huge oil drill would look like on earth.
And obviously we can't take anything like that to Mars.
This is huge.
What we need is something that just weighs a few pounds that can operate on solar energy and that we can sterilize before we send there.
So the drill that our colleagues at the Johnson Space Center have devised is a very small and to my mind quite an elegant device about two meters long and it operates on the bottom of a long cable that can be as long as you like.
The drill bit is at the bottom left.
There is an anchor that fastens the drill to the hole that it's drilling and pushes down from there.
So slowly, very slowly, maybe only a few feet per day, a drill like this could penetrate down into the interior.
It uses about 50 or 60 watts of power.
Something that you could accommodate with a solar panel.
The next slide, I believe, shows the kind of rig that they have built at the Johnson Space Center where they're testing this device and we're planning in April of next year, we're planning to take this drill up to the Canadian arctic up into the most far northern part of Canada.
Almost as close to the north pole as you can get.
The reason being, as Jon mentioned earlier, that we have data from the Odyssey spacecraft that shows there is a lot of water ice in the surface and we believe that the perma frost regions of the earth are as close to the conditions on Mars as we can get.
We plan to go up there and try out this drill.
The slide shows not the new one but a small commercial drill that was taken up to the same area back in May of this year.
And some test holes were drilled just to find out what we would be encountering when we go back up again in April of next year.
So that is the plan and I think there is a final slide that shows what we're hoping maybe to achieve in ten years from now with a robotic spacecraft with a portable drill on it would land and begin the exploration of the surface at a high latitude site maybe near the north pole, something like that.
It's just a beginning and undoubtedly when this kind of thing is beginning to happen, questions will continue for the next decades beyond so the students who are watching this broadcast don't have to worry that we'll have all the answers yet.
There will be plenty for them to do when the time comes.
>> Great.
And maybe in some of the drilling you'll actually encounter some critters much like we saw in this challenge.
I want to thank both of our experts, Jon and Geoff, for being with us today.
For spending so much time answering your questions, both here and in chats.
And for reviewing your designs.
I want to thank the students for all their hard work and for the teachers for overseeing it.
We had some wonderful designs and some great times with this.
But I'm not going to say good bye.
I'm going to let our Astro Ferret do it for us.
>> We've reached the end of the webcast.
I hope you've learned a lot.
Maybe someday you can join the NASA team and help us study life on other worlds.
Thanks for joining us.
Don't forget to visit my website.
See you next time.


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Responsible NASA Official: Tom Clauson
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, USA
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