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2009 Annual Science Report

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

EPO Activity: Mars Astrobiology EPO Report

Project Progress

Until recently, 'Follow the Water’ has been a guiding philosophy for astrobiological exploration of Mars and other bodies within the solar system. Now that there are manifold robust observations attesting to Mars’ watery history there is an urgent need to refine the exploration guidelines. We need to foster a more focused search for environments that might have sustained life and environmental settings where any evidence for past life, had it existed, may best be preserved. The exceptionally complex objective of the forthcoming Mars Science Laboratory mission is a quest for habitable environments, particularly those that might have preserved biosignatures had they been present, and clues about Martian environmental history. The focus on habitability holds both the hope and the promise of Mars Science Laboratory. The hope is that we may find some signal of a biological process. The promise is that Mars Science Laboratory will deliver fresh insight into thecomparative environmental evolution of the early stages of Mars and the Earth (Grotzinger, 2009).
Bringing these to fruition is a very difficult task, with major challenges that far exceed those encountered in building the MER Rovers. NASA managers, engineers, instrument PI’s and science team members are committed to the extraordinary efforts required to overcome these challenges. The complexity of the instrument payload means that the leadership and execution of the landed operations will require unprecedented cooperation between the science and engineering teams and a large body of expert collaborators. Bringing the community of diverse MSL Mission stakeholders together is an outreach task of mammoth proportions and is being led by MIT team member, John Grotzinger.

Grotzinger J.P., 2009. Beyond water on Mars. Nature Geoscience 2, 1-3.