Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Looking For Signs Of Water On Mars Today So Humans Can Survive There Tomorrow.

The search for water on Mars to date has concentrated on determining whether Mars once had flowing water on its surface millions or even billions of years ago. The scientific missions were not designed to look for the presence of water on Mars today.

But with the recent deployment of MARSIS on Europe's Mars Express in orbit around Mars and the pending launch of the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO) on Thursday, the search for water on Mars today begins in earnest. MARSIS is a radar instrument on the Mars Express that is capable of probing and mapping up to five kilometers below the surface of Mars. NASA's MRO will carry its own instrument that will be capable of mapping up to a kilometer below the surface. Enrico Flamini, an Italian scientist involved with both projects, says,
"With MARSIS we are going to have the broad picture of the distribution of water on Mars, while with SHARAD we are going to have the defined picture. We will be able to provide the position, the depth, and the extension of the possible ice and water layers that are under the Martian surface at a depth that can be reached by future Mars exploration."
(See story here.)

Although it is interesting to learn about the ancient history of the geology and climate of Mars, and the rovers have been incredibly helpful in that regard. It is even more important for planning human exploration of Mars to understand the current condition of Mars. Knowing where water is below the surface of Mars is vital if human exploration of Mars is to be successful. The money being spent on these two projects is more than just funding for science; it is an investment in humanity's future. All upcoming robotic missions to Mars should focus more on understanding Mars today in order to pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.



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