Is there life on Mars?: David Bowie put this question to the world in 1973, and we've been hungry to answer it ever since. NASA's Viking mission sent two probes to investigate the possibility that same decade. Thirty years later, the Mars Phoenix Lander is exploring the composition and geology of the Martian surface, and the next Mars mission, the Astrobiology Field Lab, is scheduled to launch in 2013.
So far, Bowie, the answer is no; there's no sign of life. But, in recent developments, we've seen the potential for it. Having discovered traces of magnesium, sodium, potassium and other elements in Mars's soil, as well as what appears to be the presence of ice, scientists are "flabbergasted" and thrilled at the Phoenix Lander's discoveries. "We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life, whether past, present or future," Sam Kounaves, the project's lead chemist, said. "It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard--you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well."
Asparagus! The building block of life. Low in calories, fat- and cholesterol-free, very low in sodium, and a solid source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and amino acids (and smelly pee), the possibility for asparagus is a fascinating prospect, and interplanetary agriculture is an idea worth pursuing.
This good news is especially timely as we acknowledge the 100-year anniversary of the Tunguska meteor event which obliterated 800 square miles of Siberian wilderness (if that's not luck...) on June 30, in 1908. Not to be real Debbie Downers, but we can't help thinking: the real possibility of an event like Tunguska in modern times is another excellent reason for some tentative investigation into a planetary plan B.
The universe's leading asparagus exporter is currently Peru, followed by Mexico and China. With significant agricultural development, it's speculated that Mars could surpass these by the year 3015.