The Planetary Society
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Christopher McKay  –  astrobiologist
Click for larger image " The icon of a future Mars community should be a flower growing where before there was none. "
How were you motivated to choose your particular field?
  When I was in school I studied physics and from physics I gravitated toward astrophysics. Thus in 1976 I was a first year graduate student in the department of Astrogeophysics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. That same year Viking landed on Mars. The results were most mysterious to me. Here was a planet with all the elements needed to support life (CO2, H2O,N2) present in its atmosphere, with evidence of liquid water in the past and yet there was no sign of life. It seems like Mars had "the lights on but nobody home". I slowly became more and more interested in life and how it originates, survives and changes a planet. In 1980 I applied to be a NASA graduate student Planetary Biology Summer Intern. I was accepted and sent to NASA Ames working with Jim Pollack. While at Ames I met Imre Friedmann of Florida State University and became involved in the work in microbiological work in the dry valleys of Antarctica. I became more and more interested in life and planets and continue to this day to conduct research in this area with a special focus on Mars and with many trips to the Antarctic.   Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    As a scientist I find two things help me in my work. First the chance to think deeply about problems and observations. Its not easy for me to do this in my office (except late at night) and usually I do my deep thinking when I am in the field (especially Antarctica) or at meeting and while visiting other institutions.

The second important part of the creative process for me is talking with colleagues. For me involving the language capability -- writing works but talking is even better -- causes my brain to process information in new and creative ways. Often in this process I discover connections between things that I did not previously realize.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  My suggestion here is Life. The most interesting issues that will concern a future community on Mars are those that deal with life. The search for past evidence of life, the support of life from earth living in the community enclosure, and most importantly the introduction of life on Mars as the first step of life expanding beyond the Earth. Life is the theme that makes Mars the fascination place it is and a place worth establishing a future community. The icon of a future Mars community should be a flower growing where before there was none.  
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