UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Jan > Jan 30

The Expedition To Mars

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 13:11:34 -0500
Fwd Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 13:11:34 -0500
Subject: The Expedition To Mars

Source: The Guardian - University of Southern California,
        San Diego, California, USA


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Expedition To Mars

UCSD professor leads team that may prove the existence of life
on Mars in the year 2013.

By Christina Homer
Staff Writer

Perhaps one of the most intriguing and popular issues in today's
science fiction and fantasy genres is the question of whether
life exists outside Earth. From movies like "Contact" and "E.T."
to television shows like "Star Trek" and "Stargate," human
beings are drawn to the idea that we may not be alone in the

But what was only a concept may now be reality - at least by
2013. Professor Jeffrey Bada, director of the NASA Specialized
Center of Research and Training in Exobiology at Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, has marked the date as a personal
deadline to prove life's existence on Mars. His main tool will
be the Urey Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector, a device designed
to sample soil from the surface of Mars and test for life.

The Urey will be traveling aboard the ExoMars Mission, an
internationally designed rover carrying a variety of devices to

Once the Urey collects a sample of crushed rock, it goes into
high gear. The device is actually a collection of a few highly
specialized instruments. First, its Mars Organic Detector, the
principal element of the machine, separates the organic material
in the sample from the rock and soil, analyzing the amounts of
amino acids, among other organic substances, present in the

If the M.O.D. were to detect any amino acids in the samples, the
Microfabricated Capillary Electrophoresis instrument, a device
developed at UC Berkeley by Richard Mathies, a professor and
member of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical
Research, begins its work. The CE uses a process similar to gel
electrophoresis, a biological technique in which an electrical
charge is applied to gel containing samples of genetic material.
After analysis, scientists can eventually determine the order of
bases in a segment of DNA.

Similar techniques are applied in the MCE, except on a much
smaller scale. "Our contribution is what is known as a lab on a
chip," Mathies said.

The ultimate goal is to determine the orientation, either
"right-handed" or "left-handed," of any amino acids discovered,
known as chirality. Scientists have noticed that on Earth, amino
acids derived from inorganic sources generally have equal
proportions of each type of chirality. Organic samples on Earth
always have an excess of left-handed amino acids.

Bada and Mathies said they hope to discover an excess of one
chirality of amino acids in the samples on Mars, indicating the
presence of life.

The Urey also contains a device that will measure the presence
of water vapors in the hope of determining if there is still a
significant amount of water on or near the surface of Mars.

One of the most novel developments in the Urey, the device will
yield results hundreds or thousands of times more sensitive than
other similar devices that were used on the 1976 Viking rovers,
the only other Mars mission to test for life.

Another important feature is that the rover carrying the Urey
can drill up to two meters below the Martian surface, where
radiation may not yet have degraded any biochemical compounds
that might be present.

This radiation is troublesome in other ways as well. "That's the
key thing," Mathies said. "We have to develop systems that are
robust enough and basically self-contained so that we can fly
them to Mars and do the experiments on Mars."

He explained that the team is optimistic. A year and a half ago,
the development team flew down to the Atacama desert in Chile,
an inland valley next to the Andes, to test a prototype design
in the harsh climate. They ran the device for almost two weeks
without any incident.

The Urey is scheduled to leave Earth in 2013, probably during
the late fall or early winter. Although the date seems far off,
Bada said that there is a lot of work to do to prepare.

"There is a long history here," Bada said. "I have been part of
a group here at UCSD and the Salk Institute and the Scripps
Research Institute trying to figure out the processes that led
to life on Earth. This has been a long-term project funded by

The project began 15 years ago when Bada hosted a talk at the
California Institute of Technology. A representative from NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. who happened to be
there took an interest in Bada's findings. That began a long-
term collaboration. Richard Mathies joined the team about five
years later. Bada explained the team named the instrument after
Harold Urey because of his contributions to chemistry and UCSD.

"We put together this proposal, which was reviewed by NASA,"
Bada said. "Prior to that we had already submitted this
instrument as a candidate instrument for the European Space
Agency's ExoMars mission."

They accepted that instrument design, but the team wanted NASA's
support as well. Bada's team submitted a grant proposal on Aug.
1 of last year and received approval on Jan. 8, 2007 for an
amount of $750,000 from NASA.

"The one thing I've learned about this is that you have to be
very, very patient," Bada said.

Now that funding has been approved, however, work is beginning
at a faster pace. In addition to their weekly teleconferences,
Bada explained that team members will begin meeting face-to-face
on a regular basis.

And if they should discover evidence of past or present life on

"Any discovery of extraterrestrial life would fundamentally
change our understanding of our existence in the universe,"
Mathies said.

He sees it as the fourth major step in understanding the
universe. Humans realized that the Earth was not flat, they
realized that it was not the center of the universe and then
they began examining the genetic code, the molecular basis of
existence. He believes that the next step will be to realize
that humans are not alone in the universe.

"If we found evidence of life it would just change our whole
knowledge base about life and how ubiquitous it is," Bada said.
He believes that if we find life on two planets within the same
solar system, life must be everywhere in the universe.

Of course, discovery of an alien life form would raise a lot of
other questions: How similar is this life to terrestrial life?
Are these organisms related? Are they compatible with Earth's

However, there will be plenty of time for those speculations
once the team gets definitive results from the Urey. Until then,
Bada said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I just
feel very fortunate to be involved in it."

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://uforeview.net/ for the lead]

[ Next Message | Previous Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp

Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com