The search for extraterrestrial life has been and always will be one of mankind’s greatest journeys. Into the depths of space we’ve sent many probes that have returned nothing but our own bleeps and bloops that have been lost in the ever-expanding cosmos. But maybe we’ve been looking too far away.
Mars is our closest celestial neighbor, after our moon of course, and we may not find Marvin the Martian puttering about on its surface, but Washington State Universtiy’s Dirk Schulze-Makuch thinks that with a small effort we may uncover early forms of life just beneath the red planet’s harsh surface. In an interview with Space.com, Schulze-Makuch outlined his idea to send six probes to the martian surface that once landed will dig four to eight inches into the soil and begin a series of tests that will reveal whether or not microscopic life exists.
These sorts of missions have largely been overlooked since the first hunt for life on Mars, 1975’s Viking mission, returned didley squat. However, Schulze-Makuch’s proposed mission will only cost an estimated $300 million, which sounds a lot to you and me, but in NASA’s world this is peanuts.
Currently, the proposal is to launch six probes, with the expectation that a couple may not survive the landing on Mars’ surface. But once on the ground, each of the probes will start its series of tests, one of which will mimic the Viking mission’s directive to “feed” microbes on the surface and see if any of the substance provided is being used up. Kind of like pouring water on a flower and seeing if it grows.
The mission, entitled the Biological Oxidant and Life Detection mission, or BOLD, is still in proposal form but Schulze-Makuch thinks it won’t be a problem getting NASA on board. He says…
I do think actually that NASA would be, exactly right now, very interested. Before we send a human mission to Mars, we really want to know, as well as we can, whether there is microbial life on Mars.
With NASA’s recent budgetary woes and a deadline to get humans to Mars’ surface by 2035, BOLD may be the best way to explore the planet’s surface without breaking the bank. If all goes according to plan, BOLD will be off the pad in 2018. More on this as the mission develops.