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NSF Statment Regarding Possible Early Life on Mars

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Contact:  Mary Hanson                           August 7, 1996
       (703) 306-1070

Statement by

DR. NEAL LANE
DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

On Announcement Regarding Possible Early Life on Mars

Today's announcement of scientific evidence for possible early life on Mars reignites the excitement of discovery and pioneering spirit which motivates all science, and reinforces the need to continue our national investment in scientific research.

The 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite which offers this unprecedented potential for new scientific knowledge was found in Antarctica during an ongoing National Science Foundation research project. It is ironic that we found signposts to possible life outside of earth by searching in the most remote location on earth. Antarctica is `the mother lode' of meteorites, and has yielded more than 16,000 meteorites so far -- close to one-half of the world's scientific samples. The annual hunt for Antarctic meteorites is like a bargain-priced space mission that lets scientists explore extraterrestrial worlds without leaving their home planet. Occasionally one of the samples evolves into a treasure of new knowledge that reveals itself slowly and gradually, through scientific scrutiny. In the case of the meteorite discussed today, it was only by using the most recent and advanced scientific equipment that researchers were able to begin to unlock its mysteries. The NSF-funded science team which discovered the meteorite -- led by researchers Bill Cassidy and John Schutt of the University of Pittsburgh -- were not even focused on the implications of organic life on other planets when they plucked the now-famous space rock from the frozen continent in 1984.

In spite of the many impressive scientific advances that seem to occur at an ever faster pace, there is still so much we don't know about our universe and the life it holds. The results announced today are not definitive, as the research team itself points out. Rigorous science will continue to unfold the nature and origins of life, whether on earth or elsewhere in the universe.

We live in a golden age of science, which we hope will continue to unlock the secrets of the unknown for the benefit of all humankind.

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