During a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology last Thursday, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from California lingered at the microphone to ask an unorthodox question: He wanted to know whether NASA has found evidence of “civilizations” that once existed on Mars.
Now, ancient Mars hosted bodies of water and possibly even life. It’s not even inconceivable that life still exists on the red planet, though it’d probably have to be underground; the earthly creature tardigrade provides a possible model of a species that could thrive in Mars’ toxic conditions.
What is inconceivable is that an advanced colony of aliens exists, or ever existed, on the red planet. The idea might have captured imaginations in the past — before astronomers were able to gather detailed information about the planet, and certainly before we sent a Mars rover to take a good look around — but it’s been discredited by now.
Representative Rohrabacher didn’t get the memo.
“You have indicated that Mars was totally different thousands of years ago,” he said to the NASA spokespeople in attendance. “Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?”
Mars researcher Kenneth Farley took the question and treated it with grace, though he couldn’t completely hide a smile. “So, the evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago, not thousands of years ago,” he said. “And there’s no evidence that I’m aware of.”
Rohrabacher would not be denied. “Would you rule that out? That — see, there’s some people — well, anyway ….”
“I would say …” Farley said slowly, seeming to deliberate about how to respond politely, “… that is extremely unlikely.”
Watch the exchange below. Rohrabacher’s eagerness to believe in alien civilizations is a bit endearing, but it’s also perplexing coming from someone who’s supposed to be knowledgeable about outer space and make important decisions about the United States’ plans there.