We know that the relevance of liquid water existing on Mars is in the possibility of finding life as we know it outside our planet. However, today this announcement has more repercussions than just the encouraging and justifying prospects for the scientific development and investment in future expeditions to the red planet: it urges us to create a perception of the surface of Mars and, with it, to build its landscape.
Is there water on Mars? On September 28, NASA confirmed the existence of consistent evidence of liquid water that would currently be flowing on the red planet, even though its presence has not been physically verified (1). The type of evidence corresponds to a photographic record of the spacecraft Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that exhibits the changes of the same site month by month, where dark lines appear on slopes when temperatures are around -23 degrees Celsius (fig. 1) , hiding from sight in times of lower temperatures and establishing, as a result, an annual behavior pattern (2). Previously, frozen streams had been spotted, however, these corresponded to solid-state carbon dioxide accumulations − commonly known as “dry ice” or “carbonic snow” − which do not leave wet residues with their sublimation, i.e., when they melt, they return to their traditional gaseous state (fig. 2-3).
(1) Akshat Rathi, “If there is liquid water on Mars, no one –not even NASA– can get anywhere near it,” in QUARTZ (29 Sept. 2015) <http://qz.com/512974/if-there-is-liquid-water-on-mars-no-one-not-even-nasa-can-get-anywhere-near-it/>.
(2) “NASA Confirms Evidence that Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars,” in NASA (28 Sept. 2015) <https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-confirms-evidence-that-liquid-water-flows-on-today-s-mars>.
We know that the relevance of liquid water existing on Mars is in the possibility of finding life as we know it outside our planet at least on a microscopic scale. However, today this announcement has more repercussions than just the encouraging and justifying prospects for the scientific development and investment in future expeditions to the red planet.
Internalizing the concept that water may exist on Mars psychologically sets us up to face the physical universe; it feeds us with the hope that Mars is or has been a habitable planet like Earth, giving us an idea about the possible future of our planet and/or of humanity. In this sense, based on the premise that water is fundamental to life as we know it today and that without it the human race definitely could not subsist, it can be affirmed that there is a cultural idea regarding the role of water in that it implies a benign habitat, an idea that transforms our way of facing the visible surfaces of Mars and, with it, its landscape. This reminds us of the idea presented in the column by Romy Hecht, The Landscape is Not Found; It is Made, where it is explained that this condition of humanity facing a natural environment results in the construction of a particular landscape.
Following this idea, we not only build the landscape of Mars with our psychological interpretation loaded with culture but, in fact, operational rules for the management of outer space have been materialized, agreed on in 1967 and undoubtedly driven by the arrival of man to the Moon and during the period of the Cold War. According to the website QUARTZ, if there was liquid water on Mars no one − not even NASA − could approach it because one of these rules prevents any expedition, whether human or robotic, from having contact with this vital liquid for fear of contaminating it with terrestrial life (3).
(3) See Rathi.
Possibly based on this non-approximation rule, in the official announcement of the existence of liquid water on Mars (4), one of the key questions of the press was about the missions of terrestrial objects on the “virginal” surface of the planet, positioning the human being as a focal point of pollution in an environment isolated from our intervention. Based on this questioning, others arise. What does it mean to consider the human being as an active agent in a hostile environment? How will we act in the new “new world” considering our history? Is it negative to be agents of transmission of life where the development of life without intelligence and technology − according to what we know − would not occur? What would be the best way to combine urbanization processes and natural systems in an environment where “nature” is governed by other laws?
(4) Matthew Travis, “NASA Announces Discovery Of Flowing Water On Mars,” in You Tube (28 Sept. 2015) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og67Xe5quEY>.
A material approach, if you like, to these questions can be found in the movie The Martian, by Ridley Scott, currently showing. In the film, the Martian is not an extraterrestrial of traditional fiction, but an astronaut biologist, played by Matt Damon, stranded on the red planet and faced with survival on arid Mars (fig. 4-5). We will have to see the movie.