A NASA scientist wants to create a planetary robot that would mimic what biologists do every day in terrestrial laboratories: look through microscopes to visually identify microbial life living in samples.
Although very early in its technology development, the concept would take NASA’s hunt for extraterrestrial life to the next level by actually looking for bacteria and archaea in soil and rock samples. So far, NASA’s rovers have carried tools and instruments designed to look for biosignatures or signs of life that indicate habitability, not life itself, regardless of how primitive.
“Life exists everywhere on Earth, even in places that are incompatible to humans,” said Melissa Floyd, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is using Goddard Internal Research and Development program funding to automate subsystems for a laboratory breadboard called FISHBot. “I had this idea, actually a major assumption on my part: what if life evolved on Mars the same way it did here on Earth? Certainly, Mars was bombarded with the same soup of chemistry as Earth.”
It’s not a huge assumption to make, she added. Nucleotides — the molecules that form deoxyribonucleic acid and ribonucleic acid — have been found in comets. Better known as DNA and RNA, these molecules store and transfer genetic information at a cellular level in all living organisms on Earth.