Broadcast 1459 (Special Edition)

The Space Foundation Conference

14 Nov 2010 Dr. Peter Smith
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Guest: Peter Smith. Topics: The search for life on Mars and Mars science missions. Please note that you are invited to comment, ask questions, and rate this program on the new Space Show blog, http://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. We welcomed to the show Dr. Peter Smith from the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Dr. Smith was with us for one full hour, then we took a short break and returned for a few minutes in which I outlined future Space Show programming. Our discussion with Dr. Smith focused on the history and efforts to determine if there was or is some sort of biological life on Mars. Dr. Smith explained the Viking experiments to us and then brought us current given the changes in the search for Martian life that began around six years. He spoke at length about the Phoenix Mission of which he was the PI but also about the prep work that was done in advance of the Phoenix mission. This prep work included visits to Devon Island, the Arctic and Antarctica. Dr. Smith talked about microbes and life in these desolate places and you will realize why these areas make good Mars analog sites right here on Earth. As Dr. Smith was telling us his story, he got sidetracked by listener questions and some questions from me about the next steps that should be pursued for Mars exploration. One of the ideas he suggested was to go to an asteroid and see if we could slightly move it. Don't miss this discussion as our guest was also asked about unintended consequences for doing this. He was also asked about humans going to Phobos instead of Mars. You might be surprised by his response to this question. At this point in our discussion, Dr. Smith returned to discussing Phoenix and talked about the discovery of perchlorates in the Martian soil and what this has meant in terms of the old Viking experiments and new experiments where perchlorates has been introduced to dry soil as in the Chilean desert and how it produces the same sort of data as Viking recovered. This could mean that Viking might actually have discovered organics in the Martian soil but the existence of perchlorates in the Martian soil distorted the data. The upcoming Mars Science Lab (MSL) has experiments on board to determine if organics are on Mars. Dr. Smith then talked about the discovery of methane and the efforts to track down the source of that methane on Mars. We talked about funding Mars research and the lag time as well as turn around time from getting exciting data to develop a follow up Martian mission. I asked about private sector opportunities for funding Martian science missions. Don't miss his response to this line of questioning. A listener asked about a news article saying scientists were now interested in doing a one way human mission to Mars. Dr. Smith had much to say about this idea. Another topic brought up was the use of the Mars programs to attract students to do the hard studies in science and engineering programs. You will hear what Dr. Smith had to say about this as it relates to the University of Arizona programs. Also discussed was the idea that robotics and HD Video could replace humans on a Mars mission, extremophiles on Earth and what that might mean for microbial survival on Mars, and suggestions for how best to use energy and resources for the space enthusiasts interested in humans to Mars. We also talked about searching for life on Europa as compared to Mars. We concluded our discussion with Dr. Smith telling us all to pay close attention to the MSL when it is deployed on Mars. Please post your questions and comments for Dr. Smith on the blog URL above. His UofA website is www.lpl.arizona.edu/resources/faculty/faculty-s.php?nom=Smith.

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