David A. Weintraub

 

On his book Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go

Cover Interview of May 07, 2018

The wide angle

Life on Mars is a history book that is about the future. Mars is in our future, probably the very near future. What we already know and what we likely will learn in the coming decades about life on Mars should determine how we proceed in our attempts to launch rockets and send astronauts to Mars. In real terms, we may invest hundreds of billions of dollars in the next century in our attempts to colonize Mars. Therefore, understanding Mars is important.

Like so many others, I have always been fascinated by the idea that life could exist in the universe beyond the Earth. Does it? That’s a big question. As a child of the space age, my young mind was stimulated by our exploration of the Moon and then the nearest planets in the solar system. From Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, from Ranger to Pioneer to Mariner to Viking to Voyager, I travelled the solar system with astronauts and unmanned explorers. My teenage mind was drawn into deep space by Arthur C. Clarke (The Star), Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), Isaac Asimov (The Foundation Trilogy) and Frank Herbert (Dune). Then I discovered the world of professional astronomy, in which I have immersed myself and made my own discoveries about the processes through which planets form around other stars. Finally, I came full circle: in teaching, my students helped me rediscover the deep passion for knowledge about the universe that lies beneath the big questions they ask in my classes. One of the biggest of these, repeated to me year after year for the better part of three decades, has been ‘Does life exist on Mars?’ This book is my attempt to make myself whole by writing my own chronicle of Mars, by telling a story about Mars and about those who study Mars in the search for Martian life.