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Ken Nealson  –  astrobiologist
" own creativity has often improved when I have changed locations and met new colleagues...who make me think new thoughts while looking at old data. "
How were you motivated to choose your particular field?
  Astrobiology is, in a sense, the study of environmental sciences off the Earth. And growing up on a farm in Iowa was a perfect way to get "tuned into" the environment. From the times I can first remember, I had an interest in the Earth and its creatures -- how to grow and harvest crops, to deal with animals, and to keep the soils healthy and productive. I always assumed I would become a farmer, but through some lucky events, I ended up in college studying microbiology and basic science, and eventually was drawn to teaching and doing research in environmental sciences. It is not such a large step from this to developing methods for life detection and thinking about the possibilities of finding life elsewhere. The motivation for all this has to come from a basic curiosity of how life works, and the enjoyment of finding the answers.  
What can you share about your creative process?
    It is difficult to analyze one's own creative processes, but in general, I believe that the major ingredient for creativity is to be truly interested in and happy with the vocation you have chosen. In order to be creative you need to bring a certain level of natural talent to the field; so it is important to learn where your talents lie. Once you know what you can do, then you need to focus on one of these areas that you truly enjoy. It is hard to be creative if you are not truly happy with what you are doing-- productive yes, but creative, no.

From my perspective, creativity is difficult, time consuming, and unpredictable -- if you do not enjoy the work, it is unlikely that you can persevere with it long enough to be creative. In addition, it is wise to go outside one's field to see how the thought processes of the "outsiders" work, and try some new approaches to ones own field. In my career, my own creativity has often improved when I have changed locations and met new colleagues (often from different fields) who make me think new thoughts while looking at old data. The new thoughts are the essence of creativity.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  I suggest that any real prospering community will have to be large enough (in size of the structure, and in the number of members) to have community dynamics that will avoid "cabin fever" or other syndromes familiar to those who are trapped in-doors for long periods of time. The environment of Mars is harsh enough that human habitation of the planet will not be easily possible, so a large enough facility will have to be built to allow some personal freedoms.

In addition, I suggest that an extensive robotic ability will be needed, so that members can do a lot of exploring of the planet through robotic"partners" while remaining in the safety of the habitat. Certainly if something interesting is found by a robot, a human mission could follow, but robotic partners will probably be essential.

Some kind of resource utilization of the planet will need to be planned in order to keep the habitat and the community occupied and moving forward. If the challenge is staying alive, it will get boring very soon. If a plan has major challenges built into it in terms of colonization and resource development, it may be enough to sustain interest for years or decades at a minimum.

A communication ability with Earth will be absolutely essential. This may include everything from open science links to educational links to museums and schools, to links to individuals. The funding of this endeavor will need to be constantly defended, and an open communication to the outpost will be important to maintain Earthly enthusiasm and support.

Finally, I believe that scientific investigations will be absolutely essential. Mars can be an outpost for other exploration, and the exploration of the planet itself will form a major area of interest if developed properly. The nature of these investigations will serve the purpose of supplying a motivation for the group, and keeping the interest in the endeavor on Earth.

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