On September 28, 2015 NASA startled the world with the news that it had identified flowing water on Mars. While not the rich river valleys of Martian science fiction, the frozen flow fields on the Martian surface provided a significant component to supporting life forms on Mars.
IIT Kharagpur alumnus, Dr. Amitabha Ghosh, an active member of the MARS missions as the Chair of the Science Operations Working Group commented on the discovery during his trip to India in October. He said, “[While there is] excitement among laypersons who equate water with life, we are very far away from life as we know it here, on Mars.” While water is one of the ingredients for life, it doesn’t follow that life exists if water is present. The fact water might be available on the Martian surface does make a human visit to the planet more feasible. The detection of flowing water came several years after NASA was able to confirm the presence of ice in 2008.
Dr. Ghosh has been involved with the NASA Mars Missions for the past 15 years. In his early work, as part of the Mars Pathfinder Mission, he helped conduct chemical analysis of the rocks at the landing site, the first time it was done for rocks from another planet. He has since then been involved with the Science and Engineering teams that manage the two billion dollar rovers on the Red Planet.
Looking to the future, the next milestone will be an effort to manufacture oxygen on Mars in the year 2020. With access to water and oxygen, the logistics of eventual human flight to Mars becomes easier and a step closer. What are the challenges facing the future of space exploration and how are they being addressed? Dr. Ghosh will share his experience and the future of Martian exploration at the 2016 Leadership Conference keynote talk on August 12, 2016.