Mars Experts - Audio Clips From Third Rock Radio

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    In these audio clips from Third Rock Radio, experts at NASA contribute their thoughts on some of the most popular topics in Mars exploration.

    › Goals of Mars Exploration
    › Technologies Required For Living On Mars
    › Involving the Public In Mars Exploration
    › Human Communities On Mars
    › Safeguards Against Contamination

    Goals of Mars Exploration

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    Steve Robison, Third Rock Radio:
    "Destination: Mars," an inside look at the exploration of the red planet. I'm Steve Robison. One of the biggest questions people may wonder is, why Mars? What exactly are the goals of exploring this mysterious and climate challenged planet? Dr. James B. Garvin, Chief Scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, explains.

    Dr. James B. Garvin:
    So what are the profound goals for exploring a planet like Mars?

    First and foremost, the goals flow down from ennobling questions: are we alone? What is our destiny? And at Mars, we can address those goals and this is one of the unique aspects of exploring the planet Mars. We can ask the question, "are we alone?" through asking very simply, as a goal: was Mars ever biologically active? Could we ever see the signs of past life, however it may have been manifested, or even today, modern or extant life? Now those are tough questions, really challenging goals anywhere, even here on Earth. So we attacked those goals not only from the side of biology, and the biological reconnaissance of Mars, but through other windows into how a planet might have been biologically active.

    On Mars, we have a climate history. It's a planet with a profound history of changing climate. We see that today. So one of our goals is to understand the climate history of Mars, and whether in that history there were ever periods in time that were more climatically favorable to things like life as we understand it on Earth. But also to read the record books of climate on Mars, to inform how our own climate on Earth has evolved and worked and been perturbed. Mars is a climate system. So is Earth. By comparing the two, we learn.

    Steve Robison:
    Stay tuned to Third Rock Radio for more "Destination: Mars."


    Technologies Required For Living On Mars

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    Steve Robison, Third Rock Radio:
    "Destination: Mars," an inside look at the exploration of the red planet. I'm Steve Robison. Okay, we now have the rover Curiosity on Mars. What would it take to actually send humans up to Mars? Dr. Doug Ming, a space scientist at Johnson Space Center, discusses just some of the technology needed to make this happen.

    Dr. Doug Ming:
    There are a lot of challenges that face us in sending humans to Mars, and I can't cover them all, but I will talk about a couple that are dear to my heart. First of all, life support systems. Regeneratable life support systems will almost certainly be needed for long-duration missions on the surface. And that is really required to maintain safe and reliable systems, such that we can't just simply jump back to Earth if there is a problem. So those systems have to be very reliable. Now, these regeneratable life support systems may include a combination of what we call physiochemical and biological life support systems.

    Another thing that we can do is live off the land. Living off the land, is, I think, key for long-duration missions, because we're not going to have resupply capabilities on a regular basis from Earth. So we have to maintain that crew by using things that are there.

    Living off the land and biological life support systems, physiochemical life support systems, I think are absolutely key technologies that we need to develop, to enable a long-duration mission or even an outpost or a settlement on the surface of Mars.

    Steve Robison:
    Stay tuned to Third Rock Radio for more "Destination: Mars."


    Involving the Public In Mars Exploration

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    Steve Robison, Third Rock Radio:
    "Destination: Mars," an inside look at the exploration of the red planet. I'm Steve Robison. Of course NASA is excited about the possibilities in learning more about another planet in our solar system, but they want you to be excited about it as well. Dr. James B. Garvin, Chief Scientist of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, tells us how involving the public is important to a successful Mars mission.

    Dr. James B. Garvin:
    Mars really is the people's planet. It's a tangible frontier. It's inspiring because in order to do Mars, to explore Mars, to feel Mars, to get the public involved in exploring this new world -- that's close at hand, we're there! -- we need to engage people at all levels. From the youngest school kids to the smartest, most capable entrepreneurs. And that broad brush of engagement is possible at Mars. And it all starts, really, with the inspiration of the next generation of explorers at school kid level.

    To explore Mars will require thinking, at least, about science, technology, engineering, and the glue that allows us to do those things, which, in reality, is mathematics. It's the beauty of putting them together and actually making them work.

    The other thing is, for us to reach the goal of understanding Mars as another planet, and even going there as people, will require all of the public, all the time. That's because it's a big problem. It's far. As one president once said, "it's hard." And it really is, it's a problem for which we don't have all of the solutions today. But with a greater participation -- from the school kids to the public interested in entertainment, even -- education, commercialization. We can get to Mars. We can make Mars part of our own history.

    Steve Robison:
    Stay tuned to Third Rock Radio for more "Destination: Mars."


    Human Communities On Mars

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    Steve Robison, Third Rock Radio:
    "Destination: Mars," an inside look at the exploration of the red planet. I'm Steve Robison. Could you ever imagine actually living on Mars? Permanently? Is colonizing Mars in NASA's plans?

    Dr. Doug Ming:
    NASA has a long-term goal of eventually placing humans on the surface of Mars, and possibly even development outposts or settlements on the surface. However, first NASA needs to take baby steps. Those baby steps are the development of the technologies that will enable crew members to safely go to the planet and return back to Earth again. Those technologies we are working on are technologies such as: heavy launch vehicles, that will ferry large amounts of payload into space; spacecraft that will safely transport the crew to Mars; and then a vehicle that will land us on the surface.

    Once we get on the surface, we require the habitat that will maintain the safety of our crew for long periods of time, possibly up until as long as a year or even longer. However, first NASA needs to take these baby steps to develop those technologies, and we are doing that. That will lead to the eventual mission to the surface of Mars.

    Steve Robison:
    Stay tuned to Third Rock Radio for more "Destination: Mars."


    Safeguards Against Contamination

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    Steve Robison, Third Rock Radio:
    "Destination: Mars," an inside look at the exploration of the red planet. I'm Steve Robison. When we landed on the moon, NASA was able to bring back samples of rock and dust safely to Earth. Is this something we could also do with a Mars mission? Dr. Cassie Conley discusses contamination issues for both Earth and Mars.

    Dr. Cassie Conley:
    The idea of bringing microbes to Mars, in order to sort of test whether Mars could be a habitat, whether we could terraform Mars, whether it could be a habitat for Earth organisms -- that's something we might do eventually. If the international community decides it's the right thing to do, we can certainly do it. It's just that as we go about the process of exploring Mars, we don't want to screw up the things we want to do first by doing things that then we can't take back afterwards.

    We can't do a do-over on releasing organisms in the Mars environment. Once they're there they will be there. So we have to do all of our search for life activities, we have to look for the Mars organisms without the background, without the noise of having released Earth organisms into the Mars environment. This is why we are very careful when we clean robotic spacecraft, because we really want to understand what's there at Mars and not see the stuff we brought with us by accident.

    Steve Robison:
    Stay tuned to Third Rock Radio for more "Destination: Mars."