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Until recent years the origin of life and its possible occurrence elsewhere in the universe have been matters for speculation only. The rapid growth of molecular biology since 1940 has, to be sure, made it possible to discuss life's origins in far more precise and explicit terms than was possible earlier; and the subject entered a new experimental phase in the 1950's with successful abiogenic synthesis of important biochemical substances in conditions simulating the presumptive environment of the primitive Earth. But the real transformation that the subject has undergone stems from the spectacular growth of space technology in the last decade. The possibility of life's origin and occurrence on planets other than ours is no longer limited to idle speculation: it has entered the realm of the testable, of science in the strict sense. Given the rockets now available, and especially those available by 1969, it has become fully realistic to consider plans for the biological exploration of Mars.

Biology and the Exploration of Mars: Report of a Study concludes that the exploration of Mars—motivated by biological questions—does indeed merit the highest scientific priority in the nation's space program over the next decades. This report further concludes that the favorable opportunities for exploration between 1969 and 1973 can and should be exploited as vigorously as possible. The report considers the potential scientific yields of exploration, the possibility of life occurring on Mars and our ability to detect it with available and foreseeable technology, and gains from further astronomical work from Earth, by Martian fly-by missions, Martian orbiters, and Martian landers. Biology and the Exploration of Mars: Report of a Study contains the findings of the study, a postscript discussing the significance of the observations obtained during the flight of Mariner IV past Mars, and a collection of the working papers that formed the basis of discussions.

Suggested Citation

National Research Council. 1966. Biology and the Exploration of Mars. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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Publication Info

532 pages |  6 x 9 |  DOI:
Chapters skim
Front Matter i-xvi
Part I: Biology and the Exploration of Mars, Summary and Conclusions 1-18
Postscript: October 1965 19-22
Part II: Life: Its Nature and Origin, 1 What is Life? 23-40
2 The Origin of Life 41-70
Part III: The Cosmic Setting, 3 The Solar System as a Abode of Life 71-113
4 Biological Materials in Carbonaceous Chrondrites 114-124
Part IV: Recognition of Life and Some Terrestrial Precedents, 5 Signs of Life 125-140
6 Optical Asymmetry 141-146
7 The Biochemestry of Terrestrial Soils 147-163
8 Properties of Desert Soils 164-186
9 Remote Detection of Terrestrial Life 187-210
Part IV: Some Extrapolations and Speculations, 10 Development of Rigorous Tests for Extraterrestrial Life 211-228
11 A Model of Martial Ecology 229-242
12 Exotic Biochemistry in Exobiology 243-251
13 Higher Organisms on Mars 252-258
14 Some Terrestrial Programs 259-263
15 Potential Yields of Biological Relevance from Remote Investigations of Mars 264-282
16 Launch Opportunities and Seasonal Activity on Mars 283-291
17 Space Vehicles for Planetary Missions 292-322
Part VII: Martial Landings: Unmanned, 18 Biological Objective and Strategy for the Design of a Space Vehicle to be Landed on Mars 323-330
19 The Automated Biological Laboratory 331-346
20 Analytical Methods for Landers 347-426
21 The Use of Martian Materials in the Search for Martial Life 427-430
Part VIII: Martian Landings: Manned, 22 Impact of Manned Spacecraft on the Exobiology Program 431-435
23 Prospects for Manned Mars Missions 436-442
24 "Back Contamination" and Quarantine Problems and Perspectives 443-446
Part IX: Avoiding the Contamination of Mars, 25 The Nature of the Problems 447-462
26 The Objectives and Technology of Spacecraft Sterilization 463-466
27 Spacecraft Sterilization 467-469
28 Decontamination Standards for Martial Exploration Programs 470-481
29 The Special Problem of Encapsulated Contaminants 482-484
Appendix I: Instrumentation for the Detection of Extraterrestrial Life 485-502
Appendix II: Potential Application of Electron-Optical Methods to Storage of Information for Direct Retrieval 503-506
Appendix III: List of Participants and Contributors 507-509
Appendix IV: Note on the Space Science Board 510-518

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