The much-hyped NASA press conference Dec. 2, 2010, had many speculating that the agency was going to announce it had found alien life. Well, they didn’t make any contact with aliens, but they did find out something that changes what organisms need to survive.
NASA scientists have been able to use the bacteria GFAJ-1 to see if they could switch the phosphorous, which is needed for life, to arsenic, according to MSNBC. The scientists were successful and got the bacteria to stop using the phosphorous and incorporate arsenic into its DNA. This means that life on other planets rich in arsenic and low in phosphorous could survive and evolve. This could mean a rebooting of the space program.
If this study is able to stand up to the many tests that are going to be used against it, then this could be a major boost to the now-failing space program. The only question with this study is that many researchers are saying that phosphorous, unlike arsenic, is stable in water, according to The Washington Post. The only question that arises with this conclusion is the bacteria might have not fully replaced the phosphorous DNA, which would disprove the results. But if this study does happen to stand up to all of the tests that other scientists will be doing, then the NASA program may be getting more money from the federal government.
President Obama canceled the Constellation program, which sends astronauts to the moon, and was looking at private companies to shuttle United States astronauts to the space station, according to The New York Times. And with the problems with the Discovery and the Endeavor space shuttles launching, the space program was looking like it was going to be done for awhile.
But now, this new discovery, after much review, could revive the space program and bring new areas for NASA to explore. What was once the race to send an astronaut to the moon could turn into the race to find alien life, no matter how small it might be. If NASA could find an example of this kind of life in space that uses arsenic instead of phosphorous, then the space program would have all of the funding it could ever need. This will be a big boost to the now-failing space program, and maybe someday help us answer the question of “Is there life beyond Earth?”
Alan Boyle, “Life as we don’t know it… on Earth?” MSNBC
Marc Kaufman, “Bacteria stir debate about ‘shadow biosphere'” The Washington Post
Kenneth Chang, “Obama Vows Renewed Space Program” The New York Times