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Ready for a Dip on Mars?

The word "recent" has a different meaning on Mars than on Earth. The scientists who found evidence of "recent" flows of water on the Red Planet are working in geologic time - a few hundred-thousand, or even millions, of years ago.

There's no assurance that anyone visiting Mars today will find a single drop to drink. Still, NASA researchers cite "relatively young" landforms probably caused by water seeping to the surface.

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And if water found its way to the surface of Mars even in the geologically recent past, it may still be lurking not that far below, accessible by drilling. And if the odds of that can be strengthened by new robot visitors, not even average temperatures of 63 degrees below zero and an unbreathable atmosphere may be enough to keep earthlings away.

Manned missions to other planets, by current political calculations, could be a geologic span into the future. But who knows what might whet the appetite for space travel? The presence of a life-supporting resource like water could put Mars first on the itinerary - just where it's been in human imagination for generations.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society