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Mars Lander chief expects humans to visit red planet

Peter Smith

Peter Smith

The Phoenix Mars Lander mission has been a successful steppingstone to greater discoveries on our neighboring planet, Peter Smith said Tuesday night.

Smith, the principal investigator for the University of Arizona-led mission, told about 125 people attending a Flandrau Science Center science cafe event that mankind is likely to set foot on Mars.

“Eventually I think the human race will get to Mars,” he said.

“There are no technology hurdles that would stop you from sending people to Mars. But you really want to be sure you are bringing back live astronauts.”

He said the seven-month journey each way and planet positioning means that the mission would likely last three years.

Current plans call for such a mission to take place between 2030 and 2035, he said. But if there are problems with efforts sooner to send people to the moon again, there will be a delay going to Mars.

The Phoenix Lander tasted frozen water in material scooped from the planet’s northern arctic region, but found no conclusive evidence that life exists or existed on the planet.

That will likely change.

“I’m predicting that in 10 years we will have found strong signatures of life on Mars or the other planets we’ve discovered,” Smith said. “We’re not trying to make Mars into something it isn’t – it may not have life. If that’s the case it’s still a great planet that has no life.”

Smith fielded many questions from the capacity crowd at Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, which featured a special $4 Martian margarita to mark the occasion.

When asked if Mars is the new high ground for U.S. military imperialism, Smith said no, adding tongue in cheek that the moon would be a much better choice for a military outpost.

“I don’t think there is any military use of Mars – not in a decade, a century or a millennium,” he said.

He said there was no question about basing the mission in Tucson.

“I didn’t want to participate if we didn’t do it my hometown. I grew up here,” Smith said to applause from the crowd.

Steve Walkosak, 69, a Tucson Realtor and investor, said the presentation was great.

“We got to see what they had to go through to put it together and see what they found out,” Walkosak said.

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