back to article NASA's nuclear laser tank will hunt down any life on Mars

While tales of UFOs and alien abductions are still being greeted with snorts of derision, NASA really is searching the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life, though it's not little green (or grey) men the agency is looking for, it's signs of life - most probably not above the microbial level - on Mars. The Red Planet has …


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  1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Am I the only one

    Who sadly expects this lander with its flying sky crane to fail spectacularly and spray bits of radioactive rover all across mars?

    I don't want it to, but it seems a massively Heath Robinson way to get a lander landed.

    1. Tom Chiverton 1
      Thumb Up

      Even though I get it's the only way, I will still be pleasantly surprised if it manages to work

      1. FredScummer

        I hope that they remember which units they are working with - at least one previous mission has failed to arrive due to a mix-up between metric and imperial units. And the last thing we want is for this nuclear bomb to come back home in the future and then burn up in the earth's atmosphere and spray radioactivity everywhere.

        Hopefully the half-life of the nuclear materials used will be of a relatively short duration so that by the time Buck Rogers arrives it will have safely decayed to a level where humanoids won't be at risk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It'll be an RTG.

          So it'd be- at worst- a Dirty bomb. And not a very good one.The half life of Plutonium is in the region of 90 years, which is why the Voyager craft have kept going so long. The energy from an RTG comes from natural decay of the materials inside it rather than 'normal' fission.

          There is ALREADY radioactivity everywhere. Nature makes it, man makes it- coal power plants belch it into the atmosphere in massive amounts, the Carbon-14 in the wood in your house is releasing radioactivity all the time. Same with the Granite in the walls if you have them. A small proportion of it even comes from nuclear power and bombs.

          Good point about the units, though- hope they don't get mils and mm mixed up!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @AC, don't forget bananas too... full of radioactive potassium, which is the main source of radiation inside us.

            Actually, just sleeping with someone for a year gives as much extra dose as a chest X-ray, so presumably spending a lot of time in crowds, football matches, discos etc also increases exposure to what we already have to tolerate, and we can't live without potassium.

            I wonder what effect on longevity a K40-less diet could have if it was ever economically feasible to do.. probably not much, but it's activity has almost certainly contributed to the mutations that helped to create who we are today, so for that we should be grateful...

  2. Lars Silver badge

    Same feeling

    Looking at the animation you get the feeling there are too many things that might go wrong.

    I hope I am wrong.

  3. Daniel Evans

    "The space truck is the size of a small SUV"

    We can launch something that size and (hopefully) land it on another planet? Oh science, you are wonderful.

    1. Poor Coco

      Well, we’d BETTER be able to land it...

      ...because we’ll need an even bigger lander for people.

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  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    He's still waiting...

  6. Christoph

    Can they get it to give Phobos-Grunt a bump-start on the way past?

  7. CaptSmeg

    I do hope so

    I hope that this or one of the following missions do find life on Mars. It would probably be the most important historic event in my lifetime and I would so love to see it happen.

    Of course, It would not make up for missing the singularity (bugger) but it would be a nice consolation prize.

    1. FredScummer

      Well I personally hope that there is life found on other planetary systems (not just Mars), and that we are never able to get at it. We can't even get on with each other without blowing each other up, so heaven help any other civilisation which gets in our way.

      Even in this case there's no danger of us actually meeting the alien life form, but we've sent our "we come in peace" message in the shape of a nuclear weapon which could wipe out other life forms.

      The human race is in a very difficult position of evolution currently where we see rewards as being in the shape of shiny objects where the game plan is to get as many shiny objects into your personal bank account as possible whilst anhiliating the opposition (monopoly anyone?). I hope other civilisations which might cross our paths in the future haven't got the same outlook, and that they do truly come in peace.

      Where's Gort when you need him?

  8. Red Bren

    If it crashes

    Will it be an extinction event for martian cats?

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  10. MrT

    I hope they found room... system storage for a few Bowie albums of suitable vintage, plus a sample of Jeff Wayne's epic - but just the cry of "Ullah!" to be played if it finds any evidence of life, right before frying it out of existence with it's death ray.

  11. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    Have no fear, the landing will be perfectly executed. The subsequent dismantling by a Sorn and use of the bits as spears by the Hrossa may be a little embarrassing though...

    What's that? Weston, you animal, bring back my trousers!

  12. Asgard

    @"nuclear laser tank will hunt down any life on Mars"

    I bet the Martian microbes are worried now, the earthlings are coming in their war machines!

    The Martian microbes didn't listen ... Few microbes even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to their own regarded this Martian world with envious eyes; and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against them.

  13. DanceMan

    Nice array of instruments..........

    But can it say, "Take me to your protoplasm?"

  14. FredScummer

    Lest We Forget

    The UK mission to land a craft on Mars a few years back must have been targeted on a race of aliens, and they saw it coming in and took it out before the beadyscope could show life.

    Spirit and Opportunity have been left to get on with it because they have been wandering around in a desert region where no life exists.

  15. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


    The sound effects and moving/handheld camera effects are zany.

    They worked in Battlestar Galactica. Not so much here.

  16. Tom Cooke

    @Graham Dawson

    Love the Cosmic Trilogy reference - Lewis's best book/s, bar none.

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  18. elderlybloke

    Curiouser and Curiouser

    Searching for Life!

    According to Scientific "Curiosity isn't designed to search for Martian life".

    Go have a look.

  19. Beachrider

    It IS a crap shoot...

    The NASA probe is certainly bold in its objectives. Experience with existing Martian rovers and orbiters indicated that a larger rover was needed to go after Martian soil structures. The fancy lander was chosen to avoid burning a large bowl of soil right-near the landing site. In this way, soil sampling and analysis can begin right away, even if something goes wrong with the six-wheel roving mechanism.

    On the up side, the power source has a potential useful lifetime of 10 years+. This could be a really GREAT mission, if they can get the darn thing safely on the ground. NASA no longer wants to set expectations about discovery of life forms, but they DO discuss analysis of organic matter. Spin control...

    The interplanetary path insertion didn't go buttery-smooth, but all seems OK at this point...

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