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Full Transcript (below)
5. Q: Why drill on Mars?
Stoker: "The most important reason to look at drilling on Mars from the point of view of the robotic program – the current robotic program -- is that we believe that it is the best opportunity to find evidence of living organisms. Um, we can find evidence of extinct – ah, plausible scenarios for their having been life on the surface of Mars by driving rovers around on the surface. And that's what we've been doing. But the problem is that the surface of Mars is very hostile environment for living organisms during the present time. We think that in the ancient past the surface of Mars might have been conducive to living organisms, but now the surface of Mars is a really very nasty place for living organisms. It's very cold. It's well below freezing. Ah, there's very thin atmosphere. And there's a very high flux of ultraviolet light. Which is, on the Earth we're shielded from ultraviolet light by the atmosphere, but on er—on Mars there isn't enough atmosphere, and there isn't enough of the right kind of compounds in the atmosphere to shield the surface from very intense ultraviolet light. So, um, it's not a nice place for life. However, the subsurface, ah, might have abodes that life could be thriving in at the present time. And there is quite a bit of growing evidence that the subsurface of Mars has liquid water, um, at least in some locations. And so, it's actually getting into that subsurface environment where there's liquid water that you have the best chance of finding extant life today. Now, the problem is that those environments on Mars are probably going to be at fairly large depths – depths of at least several hundred feet below the surface. Um, so in order to develop the technology to get to those kinds of depths, ah, we need to take some pretty major technology steps. And this, um, you know, we've never flown any kind of a robotic drill before. So, this is going to be one of those first steps of getting a system developed – a robotic system that can do drilling." (2:26 MINUTES)