September 10, 2013 - The Mars One astronaut application program ended on August 31. But not before 202,586 people from more than 140 countries expressed interest in becoming the first Mars colonists. The Mars One selection committee will now spend several months narrowing down the applicants. Ultimately, Mars One plans to launch a reality TV show to compliment and assist the final candidate selection process.
Artist’s rendition of human settlements on Mars. (Credit: Mars One)
Popular Science explains, “The goal is for 24 to 40 people to begin a seven-year training program in 2015. Then, working with the private space flight company SpaceX, Mars One hopes to send the prospective Martian settlers to the red planet in teams of four, beginning in 2023.”
Only time will tell if Mars One’s astronauts will encounter native Martians when they arrive in 2023. Perhaps the European Space Agency’s (ESA) 2018 ExoMars mission will reveal more about the possibility of past or present life on the red planet. According to the ESA, the Raman spectrometer that will be aboard the ExoMars rover can “be used to detect micro-organisms even after they have been damaged by exposure to very high levels of radiation, as is encountered on the Martian surface.”
Astrobiologists tested the Raman spectrometer on model bacteria that are thought to be representative of microbial lifeforms that may have emerged on Mars, and findings were presented today, September 9, at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2013 in London. Results were presented by Dr. Lewis Dartnell of the University of Leicester, who explained, “Raman spectroscopy is a wonderfully sensitive and versatile technique. It can reveal details of the minerals inside rocks, and so what the micro-environment for life is, but we can also use it to detect organic molecules and signs of life itself.” He elaborated:
In this study we’ve used a bacterium with unrivalled resistance to radiation as a model for the type of bacteria we might find signs of on Mars. What we want to explore now is how other signs of life might be distorted or degraded by irradiation. This is crucial work for understanding what signs to look for to detect remnants of ancient life on Mars that has been exposed to the bombardment of cosmic radiation for very long periods of time.
The search for extraterrestrial life is gaining momentum. As Space.com points out, “Upcoming NASA missions such as the Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) and the James Webb Space Telescope, both due to launch around 2018, should be able to find and characterize Earth-like planets orbiting small stars.” Recent technological advances will allow scientists to spot signs of life in the atmospheres of detected planets. And because of this, exoplanet expert Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge believes extraterrestrial life will be detected in the next decade.
If there is life on Mars, it would be beneficial to Mars One astronauts to learn about it before their 2023 arrival on the planet so they know what to expect.