Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Research that suggests life existed on Mars shows the importance of sending a spacecraft to Mars to retrieve rock samples, a University of Tennessee geology professor told a congressional committee Wednesday.

Dr. Harry Y. McSween said NASA’s recent studies of a Martian meteorite demonstrates how modern scientific analysis techniques might find traces of past life in Martian rocks.

“The (NASA) work provides a strong motivation for spacecraft missions to Mars, involving thorough reconnaissance, careful selection of landing sites and sample-return missions,” McSween told the U.S. Senate subcommittee on science, technology and space.

“The question of life on Mars is still open and will require new data and new samples to answer.”

The NASA team in August said it had found evidence of past life on Mars. McSween said the evidence is inconclusive and more studies are needed.

However, McSween said the NASA team’s work shows how modern microscopic analysis can be used to study meteorites and extraterrestrial rocks to detect signs of life.

“The (NASA) workers have set a new standard for work of this type,” McSween said. “Whether or not the discovery of ancient Martian life is ultimately confirmed, this work clearly illustrates the synergy between ground-based laboratory studies and space exploration.

“This study also demonstrates the value of acquiring new meteorite samples, as they will surely hold more surprises.”

Contact: Dr. Harry Y. McSween (423-974-2366)