Is there life on Mars?

If there ever was intelligent life on Mars, it’s probably already seen us coming and cleared off to some class M planet in the Orion Nebula just to get out of our way.

A little piece of you<br>The little peace in me<br>Will die<br>For this is not America – David Bowie.<br>

At 13:15 CET today, ground controllers at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt in Germany tried and failed to communicate with Beagle 2, the British led Martian lander.

Although Beagle 2 was successfully ejected from its mothership, and did land on the surface of Mars on Christmas Day, scientists and engineers are still awaiting the first faint signal to tell them that Beagle 2 is still twitching.

As we sat forlornly waiting for some squeaks of life from the British contingent, we could only gaze enviously at the back-slapping antics of the lads at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in the US who are deservedly very chuffed about the success of their own Martian effort.

Their lander – the ‘Spirit’ – did get to the surface successfully and is already returning some jolly good pictures of the area around its landing site.

For those pure scientists among us, does it really matter whether the Beagle barked or not? No. What does matters is that, out of the two missions, one has been successful, and will be able to return useful information on the planet’s surface back to Earth.

Yet while we should be sending our congratulations over to the American chaps and our condolences to the British Beagle team, we should perhaps be questioning why NASA and the ESA couldn’t have pooled their resources in a joint effort to Mars, rather than duplicating all this effort.

Surely it can’t be that looking at rocks on the Martian surface is just an insignificant ice crystal in the monstrously expensive political space iceberg?

Surely it can’t be the case that all this money is really simply being spent as a means for the richest nations on the planet to climb higher than their rivals on some endless dual-use military/commercial stairway to the stars, rather than for the benefit of mankind?

Well, perhaps it can.

And that does not bode well for those of us ‘Trekky’ types who watched Captain Kirk lead his ludicrous band of multinational marauders through the space time continuum in the 1960s, fervently hoping that one day the nations of the earth might join together to explore space this way. Obviously, we’ll have to wait a bit longer.

And while we wait, if there ever was intelligent life on Mars, it’s probably already seen us coming and cleared off to some class M planet in the Orion Nebula just to get out of our way.