Definition of Life

Preliminary Steps
  Geological Survey
  Sample Collection

Present Life
  Spectroscopic Analysis
  Organic Analysis
  Biology Experiments

Past Life
  Thin Section
  Isotope Analysis


Experimental Design


The crux of the search for life on Mars are the biological and chemical experiments to be used once the astronauts land on the planet.  But before the search for life can begin, a suitable definition of life is required; five basic characteristics are used as the definition of life.  Life must show evidence of growth and replication, and purposeful energy transfer; it responds to stimuli, act in such a way as to ensure its self-preservation, and it must be significantly different from the surrounding environment.

With the science tasks of the mission defined, there are many steps in the experimental protocols to search for life on Mars.  First, a geological survey must be conducted, to determine which areas of the surface are likely to contain life. Next, the astronauts (along with the LMRs) have to explore the surface and collect soil and rock samples for further investigation. The experiments to be done on these samples can be roughly divided into two large groups, those that search for present life, and those that search for past life.  The experiments to be used to search for present life include various forms of spectroscopy, biochemical organic analysis, and the detection of biological activity.  The experiments used to search for past life include looking at thin sections of rock under microscopes, and analyzing the isotope abundance present in old rock.

Definition of Life
The definition of life is the starting point of all further discussion, and is the foundation of all experimentation.

Experimental Motivation
The motivation behind the experimental decisions.

mitCopyright © 2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Comments and questions to mission2004-students@mit.edu Last updated: 10 December, 2000