Mars Exploration and the “F Words”

Most readers of this magazine are familiar with the controversy surrounding the so-called “Face on Mars.” Originally photographed by NASA’s Viking Lander in 1976, a formation on the Cydonia plain looked for all the world like an im­mense enigmatic face gazing straight up into the sky. Researcher Richard Hoagland subsequently made himself fa­mous with a book The Monuments of Mars which argued convincingly that the “Face” was the work of a lost ancient civilization and, indeed, was part of a huge complex of engineered, albeit ruined, structures yet visible in the Cydonia neighborhood. In the years since, further photos have been taken of the “Face,” and the virtually official consensus is that it is an optical illusion. Undaunted though, Hoagland and fellow rebel researchers have assembled a great deal of interesting evidence suggesting that NASA has stacked the deck in the debate.

For those making the case that when it comes to evaluating Martian life evidence, NASA and the scientific estab­lishment are stacking the deck, or are, to say the least, strongly influenced by their own preconceptions, there seems to be new evidence. The latest example has to do, not so much with formations of biblical proportions—the Face and its environs—as with extremely tiny ones—fossils. In December CNN’s science reporter Miles O’Brien interviewed NASA engineer Steve Gorevan who had discovered, in the trail left by one of the Mars rovers, a tiny spiral-shaped ob­ject resembling a worm, which seems to defy conventional explanation. Maybe it is a fossil, and if so, said O’Brien, it could be the “Holy Grail” of space exploration—proof of life on another planet.

Whatever it is, the fact that stands out for skeptical observers is the way NASA has reacted. For one thing, after the initial photo, the rover made no further effort to examine the “fossil” and moved on. NASA’s explanation: the rover is not equipped to analyze fossils so there was nothing that could be done. So for now we have no more photos or addi­tional data on the thing, whatever it is.

Even according to NBC News space analyst, James Oberg, who is very much in the standard science paradigm camp, NASA is “avoiding the ‘F Word’ on Mars”—fossil that is. “Scientists,” says Oberg, “had the word on their minds, it seems, and they were determined not to pronounce it. Instead they talked around it.” For Oberg though the prob­lem with fossils is there hasn’t been enough time in Martian geologic history to develop them. In other words the rul­ing gradualist school of evolutionary natural history does not permit fossils to be found on Mars, and that, we sus­pect, is the subtext for so-called scientific pronouncements on the subject.

Maybe it is time to reevaluate the prevailing doctrine that life on Earth or Mars required such vast aeons to devel­op and to look more closely at the notion that sudden catastrophic interruptions could have accounted for immense and sudden leaps in the evolution of life on Earth, and probably elsewhere. Mars has certainly seen more than its share of such drastic interruptions.

By J. Douglas Kenyon

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