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Could humans live on Mars? 'Absolutely,' a NASA expert says

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Scientists reported Thursday that NASA’s Curiosity rover has found potential building blocks of life in an ancient Martian lakebed. Hints have been found before, but this is the best evidence yet. (June 7) AP

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Humans will “absolutely” be on Mars in the future, NASA chief scientist Jim Green told USA TODAY. And the first person to go is likely living today, he said.

After the “building blocks of life” were discovered on the Red Planet, life on Mars and living on Mars seems to be less like a scene from the movie The Martian and more like a reality.

“Now, we see Mars is an even better location for having past life,” Green said. “It’s just getting better and better.”

Mars is more Earth-like than any other planet in the solar system, making it an attractive second option for the human race. There’s also a natural beauty on the planet: a grand canyon that measures nearly the entire width of the U.S. and a volcano the size of Arizona.

Photos of Mars

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This undated photo provided by NASA and taken by an

This undated photo provided by NASA and taken by an instrument aboard the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks on the surface of Mars that scientists believe were caused by flowing streams of salty water. Researchers said Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, that the latest observations strongly support the longtime theory that salt water in liquid form flows down certain Martian slopes each summer.  University of Arizona via AP
An image taken on Sept. 8, 2016, within "Murray Buttes"

An image taken on Sept. 8, 2016, within “Murray Buttes” region on Mars.  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of

NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of flowing water on the Red Planets surface.  NASA
This map shows the southward path driven by Opportunity

This map shows the southward path driven by Opportunity from late December 2014 until it passed marathon distance on March 24.  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
This image provided by NASA shows shows a Martian rock

This image provided by NASA shows shows a Martian rock outcrop near the landing site of the rover Curiosity thought to be the site of an ancient streambed. Curiosity landed in a crater near Mars’ equator on Aug. 5, 2012.  AP
This image released 27 August, 2003 captured by NASA's

This image released 27 August, 2003 captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows a close-up of the red planet Mars when it was just 34,648,840 miles away.  NASA, AFP/GETTY IMAGES
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below.  NASA/JPL
These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5.Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona  University of Arizona via NASA
NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of

NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of flowing water on the Red Planets surface.  NASA
NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of

NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of flowing water on the Red Planets surface.  NASA
NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of

NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of flowing water on the Red Planets surface.  NASA
NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of

NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of flowing water on the Red Planets surface.  NASA
These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring

These dark, narrow, 100-meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Horowitz crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water.  NASA

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The planet could offer humans a “brand new life with brand new vistas,” Green said.

The plan is to send someone to the planet by 2040. But that’s dependent on quite a few factors.

Here are some obstacles, outlined by Green:

We have to land. Right now, NASA is able to land a 1-ton vehicle on the surface of Mars. For a human to land, it would need to park about 10 tons on the surface. That vehicle would also need to land with precision — mainly not mountains or hills or rocks.

We would need to blast off from Mars. It’s not a one-way ticket, at least right now. That’s why NASA is working on a Mars 2020 rover. “Sometime in the next decade, we plan to blast off the surface of Mars and return.”

We would need to wear spacesuits — all the time. Weather on Mars is extreme. The difference between Monday and Tuesday could be 170 degrees. The average temperature is well below zero. The air is also largely carbon dioxide — good for planets, bad for people.

We’d have to get used to dust storms. About every 26 months, it’s summer on Mars, meaning prime dust storm season. These storms, made up of fine dust that gets caught in the atmosphere, can darken daylight to a twilight stage and last months.

We need to build an entire infrastructure. “The people that would go there are real pioneers,” Green said. The first humans on Mars would need to farm and establish a food source. Scientists believe beans, asparagus and potatoes are viable crops for soil there. Homes would also need to be built. Green said 3D printers might be able to use dust on the planet to create habitats.

More: NASA Mars rover discovers ‘building blocks’ for life: 3-billion-year-old organic matter

More: Scientists reflect on past, future mars missions

Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

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