NASA discovers rocks on Mars
The triumphant landing of NASA's Phoenix Mars lander at 7:53 PM EST brought cheers and shouts of joy from mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but the waiting and apprehension would continue for another two hours, when the craft successfully unfurled the solar panels necessary to power the rest of it's mission. And then, the first pictures began to arrive.
"I was stunned," said project manager Barry Goldstein. "There were rocks. Right there on the surface of Mars, rocks were clearly visible. The implications are startling."
One of the prime directives of the Phoenix mission is to search for signs of water, which is essential for the existence of life as we know it. The search for rocks, however, is a considerably more esoteric quest, one that was not even planned for as part of the current undertaking.
"We expect to find water," said Dr Peter Smith, principal investigator for the NASA team. "At this point, it is almost a given, and I expect to report on it's existence in a matter of days. But rocks, well, let's just say that takes our speculation to a whole new level."
While the presence of water could lead to proof of the existence of small organisms such as microbes and viruses, Smith believes that the existence of rocks leads credence to the possibility of higher life forms.
"Life evolves through confrontation, and rocks provide the means for that sort of violent interaction. We know that clearly through the study of the emergence and evolution of mankind on this planet. Rocks are an essential ingredient for the evolution of cognitive creatures such as ourselves. Some of us, anyway. I'm not so sure about Dr Harper," Smith laughed, making a joke at the expense of his nubile young colleague.
"Mankind fully exploited the use of rocks, both as tools and more importantly as weapons. It only takes a small leap of the imagination to believe that at one time in it's history, creatures much like us roamed the rocky red plains of Mars."
©2008, Mark Hoback