Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mars, exploration, and ice

Only days after its arrival on Mars, the Phoenix lander has beamed back an image that has scientists very excited. Poking its camera underneath the spacecraft to look at the terrain scoured by its descent thrusters, Phoenix imaged an exposed patch of light-colored, smooth material. Ice? Water ice?
Peter Smith of the University of Arizona says, "We were expecting to find ice within two to six inches of the surface. The thrusters have excavated two to six inches and, sure enough, we see something that looks like ice. It's not impossible that it's something else, but our leading interpretation is ice."

COMMENT: NASA's webservers have been flooded with visitors wanting to see the latest images from Mars. Whatever debates may be going on concerning future directions in space exploration, it's clear that Mars continues to fascinate the human imagination. Discoveries like this one are reinforcing the belief that Mars can support, at least partially using in-situ resources, human colonists if we choose to send them. I hereby volunteer. (OK, it's easy to say that, because I know I'd be rejected for age and health by the time we are ready to send anyone. But I'd still go.)

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