There is actually an incredible announcement from the team operating the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, they have solid evidence, gathered over a long period of time, of flowing liquid water on the surface of Mars right now. This is just remarkable. Unless there's some alternative explanation, this is one of the greatest discoveries ever. We knew since Phoenix landed in 2008 that there was water ice on Mars, but now it seems that there is actually flowing water there, sustained in the liquid state by the high salt concentration and the relatively high temperatures when the planet is on its closest approach to the Sun. As we know from Astrobiologists/Biologists on Earth, where there is water, there is life.
NASA has a rover called Curiosity prepared for launch to Mars quite soon actually, this year. I wonder if they're going to change its destination to this area, to actually look for extant biology, as opposed to fossils (that it's designed to look for)
NASA footage on YouTube:
There was nothing preventing from life evolving on Mars in the past. In fact, many theorize that life could have emerged on Mars before it did here. Studying martian geology we've come to understand that some three billion years ago it used to be a very Earth-like world, but had since lost most of its atmosphere, perhaps due to solar wind erosion. There is convincing evidence, which was uncovered by the Spirit rover, that liquid water existed at least for millions of years on the surface of Mars. Some even postulate that life first emerged on Mars and was carried over via meteoroids blasted off the surface of Mars by an asteroid impact. We now know that some organisms can survive the vacuum of space, even complex ones like the Water Bear, a microscopic animal of up to 40,000 cells - a group of them were actual exposed to the vacuum of space for about 10 days in 2007 and half survived.
Either way, it'll be the most exciting discovery in the history of mankind, if we will detect either extinct or extant life forms on Mars. Whether life can exist there now... well, few years ago, most scientists would have answered no, but we've found literally thousands of fresh gullies formed by liquid. The likeliest model is that extremophile-like organisms could live deep underground (perhaps as deep as 10km) in isolated pockets of salt water (brine)
Heh, the way things are going we better start getting ready to colonize space in a few hundred. And I agree with you, we are very lucky to be alive now. We're at the point where we haven't screwed things up just enough to still have hope for the future. Lol.
I consider myself an optimist.
I would be surprised really if it took that long. Man, or life for that matter, is inexorably pushed to occupy as much space as possible. We will look for any excuse to get colonies going on Mars. Once someone figures out how to make a living there, the spaceships will start heading out. If there is any kind of profit to be made, by mining for example, that will only speed things up. And how many adventurous people are out there who would give anything to be among the first Mars colonizers? I'd certainly consider it (but I'm much too soft for all those rigors). People will head out there for every reason imaginable. Science, profit, freedom of/from religion, the desire to live according to their own political inclinations, the powerful aesthetic of it all... how freakin romantic is it to think of composing music on Mars, or advancing architectural designs on a lower-gravity planet? No way it takes thousands of years. I would really be surprised if it hasn't started happening by the end of this century, or the beginning of the next, latest.
And yeah, in some ways we are really lucky, but on the other hand I wish I lived in an advanced civilization where we actualized our political potential (i.e. some sort of socialized utopia). I feel that in many ways we are still in the dark ages, and there is so much suffering in the world because the dull masses hold back those of us who would otherwise have our act together. Sort of like the episode of Family Guy I just watched, where Brian and Stewie travel to another dimension in which Christianity had never been invented, and everyone is flying around in jetpacks and their society had advanced by 1000 years... I think all the dreaming I do makes me lean towards pessimism.
I assure you that unless our civilization literally falls apart, we will begin actual colonization no later than 100 years from now. It is likely that we will have a scientific outpost by the mid century on Mars, where people will spend a couple of years on rotational basis. Actually under the previous administration NASA had a so-called Constellation program, which planned for first Mars visitation by 2030 or earlier. But the funding was cut following the financial crisis of 2008 and it was behind on schedule anyway. The plan was to establish permanent presence on the Moon by 2020 and then on to Mars. Now this plan has been largely scrapped, but parts of the program have been preserved.
U.S. probably won't go alone to Mars, it'll be an international mission together with European Union and Japan, maybe even with China, though their ambitions are greater than their current capabilities.
Indeed. Throughout my life our understanding of Mars had shifted from hypothesizing that liquid water ceased to exist there for billions of years, then after the intensive exploration of Mars commenced about 10 years ago astrogeologists concluded that it had to have existed there just millions of years ago, in some considerable quantities and now we're seeing it actually flow on the surface today - I'm still a little suspicious, because it's so incredible, but the evidence is staring us in the face. I can't wait for NASA to place a robot right next to it and to see first video feed of actual flowing water from another world.
I don't know how old you are, but if you're going to be around in the 2030's, you'll probably see people on Mars. That is the overall consensus of people in the field. Current rovers are essentially paving the way for future human exploration and eventual colonization. It's just so damn expensive to put humans on mars that it makes more sense to do it robotically for now. But the Orion spacecraft, which has been in development since around 2005, will be capable of deep space missions, including a human mission to Mars.
Here's one of the best recent images of Vesta. Just the sheer realization that this is the first time anyone is seeing this world is pretty incredible:
For anyone who is excited about the DAWN mission, check out this presentation, it's a bit over an hour and will leave you with a thorough understanding of the importance and innovative nature of this mission.
It's surprising how there is literally nothing in the media about it.