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Home » Joel Levine: Why we need to go back to Mars (Transcript)

Joel Levine: Why we need to go back to Mars (Transcript)

Joel Levine – TEDxNASA November 2009 TRANSCRIPT

I want to talk about 4.6 billion years of history in 18 minutes. That’s 300 million years per minute.

Let’s start with the first photograph NASA obtained of planet Mars. This is fly-by, Mariner IV. It was taken in 1965. When this picture appeared, that well-known scientific journal, The New York Times, wrote in its editorial, “Mars is uninteresting. It’s a dead world. NASA should not spend any time or effort studying Mars anymore.”

Fortunately, our leaders in Washington at NASA headquarters knew better and we began a very extensive study of the red planet. One of the key questions in all of science, “Is there life outside of Earth?” I believe that Mars is the most likely target for life outside the Earth. I’m going to show you in a few minutes some amazing measurements that suggest there may be life on Mars.

But let me start with a Viking photograph. This is a composite taken by Viking in 1976. Viking was developed and managed at the NASA Langley Research Center. We sent two orbiters and two landers in the summer of 1976. We had four spacecraft, two around Mars, two on the surface — an amazing accomplishment.

This is the first photograph taken from the surface of any planet. This is a Viking Lander photograph of the surface of Mars. And yes, the red planet is red. Mars is half the size of the Earth, but because two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, the land area on Mars is comparable to the land area on Earth. So, Mars is a pretty big place even though it’s half the size.

We have obtained topographic measurements of the surface of Mars. We understand the elevation differences. We know a lot about Mars. Mars has the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons. Mars has the Grand Canyon of the solar system, Valles Marineris.

Very, very interesting planet. Mars has the largest impact crater in the solar system, Hellas Basin. This is 2,000 miles across. If you happened to be on Mars when this impactor hit, it was a really bad day on Mars. This is Olympus Mons.

This is bigger than the state of Arizona. Volcanoes are important, because volcanoes produce atmospheres and they produce oceans. We’re looking at Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system, superimposed on a map of the United States, 3,000 miles across.

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