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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: House Subcommittee Hearing on Possible Life on Mars

September 12, 1996

On September 12, 1996, the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee held a hearing on the implications of evidence of possible life on Mars, complete with a meteorite from Mars and a model of a robotic rover planned for future exploration of that planet.

Included in the panel was Dr. Richard Zare, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and Chairman of the National Science Board, who has conducted research on the Mars meteorite ALH84001, which was found during an annual National Science Foundation expedition to collect meteorites in Antarctica . Dr. Zare described his research and the strong circumstantial case it makes that the meteorite contains evidence of primitive life forms. Dr. Zare emphasized that his research was possible only because of the long-term investment in basic research techniques and instrumentation made possible with federal funds over the years.

Dr. Wesley Huntress, Associate Administrator for Space Science, and Dr. David McKay, Assistant for Exploration, represented NASA and testified on how the recent research would affect the strategy for future NASA missions to Mars, which will now focus on landing at sites most likely to yield additional information on early Martian life. Additional research will be conducted on the dozen known meteorites from Mars over the next two years to determine if they also contain evidence of life.