There may be liquid water on Mars. At least temporarily and sporadically. That is the most recent Mars news. At irregular intervals the surface seems to weep water in spots.
This is viewed as a definite positive for future manned exploration. Yet it is also viewed by some as a reason to be extra careful not to contaminate the planet with any life form from this planet accidentally. Hence we should be extra careful in sterilizing all probes to the planet before launch. The idea is that any discovery of evidence of life on Mars must be clear of the possibility we are only detecting life transferred there from Earth.
The natural extension of this idea is that, until life is definitely ruled in or out on Mars, we humans have to stay off the planet. Otherwise we are an example of the very thing we are trying to avoid. Many would even go so far as to say that if life is confirmed as being on Mars already then we must not let Earth-Life get there at all.
I disagree with that argument vehemently. First of all, there are many who think that the most important thing about discovering life on Mars would be its obvious proof Earth and humanity are not unique.The thought they are is central to all religions on Earth. Some religious people claim their religion does not claim this. My experience is so embedded in this supposition that I cannot even imagine the opposite. So I will stand by it even if it is known by some readers to be false.
So, maybe I’m wrong, but at least for Christianity, Islam and Judaism, the primacy of man’s place in the universe is central. Otherwise why would the existence of other life in the universe even be questioned? It’s a very big place!
Why should we even consider risking our future for life on Mars? Here I am not thinking of us as if that term referred to mankind alone. I mean all life from this planet. Where do we humans get off in saying we should protect a Martian microbe at the risk of every microbe on this planet? Are our microbes less worthy than Mars’? Oh, you think ours is not at risk?
Look, if anything is obvious from our space exploration so far, it should be that the conditions for the existence of life are not easy to come by, nor easy to keep. The only reason I say that life has to exist elsewhere in the universe is that it is absurd to hypothesize it does not. More absurd, even, than the idea of a virgin birth. Like I said, it is a very big place.
There are billions of stars in every galaxy, and we can see billions of galaxies through any telescope. We would have to be very special, indeed, to be the only life form in the universe. It is an incomparably big place.
Other life exists for the simple reason that we are nothing special. That flies in the face of all the religious teachings I know anything about. But is totally compatible with all the science I know anything about. I know nothing about what reality is. That I admit. Science tells us nothing about that question, so maybe science is bullshit and religion is the only place to go. But I have cast my lot with science, so that’s where I shall go.
Now the only question that seems to me left unanswered is whether we should just let Earth and all its life dry up and blow away or not. We humans are killing this planet. That, I think, is obvious. To survive, some of us–Earth life– should get off the planet. If I were king, none of this looking for life on Mars or sterilization of spacecraft would be happening at all. Instead, we would be doing everything in our power to get some of us–Earth life–off. That’s what terraforming would be about.