Humanity may not have to wait much longer to get our first evidence of E.T., NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said recently at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory headquarters. Bridenstine isn’t the only NASA leader to express optimism about the alien-life hunt. In 2015, Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist from 2013 to 2016, who predicted that NASA would find “proof of alien life in 20 years.”
“People have long wondered if we are alone,” said Stofan, “and we are now actually going to answer that question in the next few decades. We are exploring Mars, where it is very likely that life evolved at around the same time life evolved here on Earth,” she said. “It will likely take future Mars astronauts to find the best evidence of Mars life.”
NASA has made the search for alien life a high priority, and recent discoveries give ample reason for optimism that the endeavor will be successful soon, Bridenstine said last week at a ceremony announcing the death of the agency’s record-setting Opportunity Mars rover.
The NASA chief singled highlighted three tantalizing harbingers for the existence of alien life: The Red Planet’s surface hosts complex organic molecules, the carbon-based building blocks of life; in some locations, potentially biogenic gas methane varies seasonally; and the discovery of a huge lake of liquid water beneath Mars’ south pole.
“All of these things collude to say there is a lot we need to learn, and friends, we’re going to do it quickly,” Bridenstine said at the Feb. 13 event, which was held at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Mars 2020 will also collect and cache promising samples for eventual return to Earth, where scientists can pore over the Mars material in labs around the world. The retrieval mission is not yet on NASA’s books, but the agency fully intends to get this done, Bridenstine said.
“We’re going to be able to look at samples and determine if there’s a biosignature in there,” he said. “The goal is to discover life on another world; that’s what we’re trying to achieve. And because of so many great people in this room, friends, we are well on our way to doing that,” Bridenstein concluded at the JPL event.
The Mars 2020 landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, “that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The Daily Galaxy, Sam Cabot via NASA and Space.com