LPL in 2008 |
The Moon & the Solar System |
Extra-Solar Planets |
Finding Life Outside |
The Earth’s Climate
The Future of Space Exploration
The Department’s really made up of a large number of semi-independent entrepreneurs. I think if you hire good people, they’re going to each look out on their own for what are the interesting areas of science and move into that. To some extent, if you just provide the environment for people to do their work well, the Department’s going to go where the action is.
I think LPL has every opportunity to take the lead in space missions from now on. What can you do with a telescope anymore, compared to being on the surface of the darn place? I think over the next 50 years we’re going to be expanding outwards. The outer solar system has turned out to be fabulously interesting.
The search for life is an excellent theme. I’m very hopeful that Phoenix is one of the stepping stones toward that search for life. If we find something, and who says we won’t, that could really galvanize the field. The gun’s loaded, the finger’s on the trigger, and one of these days it’s going to be bam, off we go, because we’ll find something so interesting that the government will have to support it. People will say, “We want to know more about this.” It’s not going to be whether it’s an acidic or a basaltic rock on the surface of Mars. That is not going to galvanize the public who has to pay for these things. It’s going to be something to do with life.
We actually need to set the trends. I don’t pretend to be smart enough to know what those trends are. My own sense is that the search for Earth-like planets around other stars—we know of over 200 planets around other stars; we have found for the first time something that may be Earth-like—but the search for life on other planets. The Phoenix Mission has the chance to find the smoking gun for life.
We need to be focusing on the big questions; things that humanity has thought about probably since Homo sapiens sapiens first became sentient and started thinking. Are we alone in the universe? How did life come about? Where is it distributed to? What is our destiny; are we destined to only be on Earth or are we destined to a future amongst the stars? I think that guides what LPL ought to be thinking about.
Now, what individual faculty decide to do, and what individual students and post-docs decide to do, is very much a matter of their own creativity and imaginations. One of the things I learned a lot time ago is not to dictate to people how to do things. Create the opportunities for them to explore, and you’ll be astonished at what they come up with.
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Department of Planetary Sciences
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
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