Evidence of water on Mars sparks debate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2004

How about a nice refreshing glass of Martian water? It’s guaranteed to turn you green. One day this could be a reality, thanks to a discovery made by one of NASA’s twin rovers that landed on the surface of Mars back on Jan. 25.

NASA had been leaking hints for the past few days before finally revealing the truth during a press conference Tuesday. During its mission in the Meridiani Planum on the planet Mars, the rover Opportunity discovered strong evidence that the planet at one time had water.

Donald Self, a retired geologist for Consol Energy, said that the rover’s findings are not that hard to believe.

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“The first response to the question of water on Mars is sure, why not? Earth and Mars are very similar,” Self said

The evidence that the rover found in a group of rocks helped lead NASA scientists to their conclusion. The rocks’ composition, which included the presence of sulfates, and the rocks’ overall physical appearance, which included niches, gave them clues that water was once there.

Self said that the way the rocks were embedded in the soil of the planet is a clear indicator of water being preset at one time.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions said the findings is expected to open new areas of scientific research.

“We indeed live in an exciting time. NASA’s announcement that the Opportunity rover appears to rest in an area that was once the location of a long standing body of water, which could have provided a hospitable environment for life, opens a new realm of scientific research that has not been possible before,” Sessions said.

Scientists from NASA gave different opinions on the question of whether the rovers will be able to find proof of life on Mars. Most felt that it is just too early to tell.

Self said that just to be able to have a machine on the surface of Mars doing the things that a human can is an incredible achievement.

“In the past 30 years, we have made incredible leaps in the space program. Thanks to the Hubble Telescope and the rovers, the way people look at outer space has changed ten-fold,” Self said.

Sessions said Tuesday’s announcement will strengthen support for the president’s plan for space exploration and for NASA’s capability to accomplish its core scientific missions.

“The president’s vision of what exploration might be in the years to come, including the return of Americans to the moon and future manned missions to Mars, speaks to all Americans and draws upon the belief that we are a ‘nation of explorers,” Sessions said. “Discovery is what Americans are about. This is another success in our exploration process and is consistent with our national heritage.”

The total cost of the Mars Rover Mission was approximately $820 million.