An artist's conception of a pulse drive as defined by Harold White.
In the search for extra-planetary life, NASA's Ames Center has already organized one program to search for water on the moon. It is now in discussions inspired by work at the University of Michigan on creating a nano-satellite that could fly through vapor plumes spotted on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.
"This is an amazingly Earth-like body with lakes of methane and ethane -- there's a plan to send a kind of boat to sail in these alien seas," said Worden.
The upper atmosphere of Venus also could hold some form of life where Earth-like pressures exist 60 kilometers high. However there is a bit of sulfuric acid in its clouds and "a few minor things like that."
Mars has perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel that inhibits human thyroid function, just a few centimeters under its soil. "This is a challenge as we think about settling the solar system -- these are truly alien environments."
The solution could lie in certain kinds of bacteria that eat the noxious chemicals. J. Craig Venter, who pioneered sequencing the human genome, called Worden last year with ideas about doing biotech work on Mars.
"Now I am a zealot about biological sciences -- they are a key to what we are doing in space," Worden said, explaining his time with Venter:
"We went to the Mojave desert to find bacteria like you might find on Mars. He sees a lot of commercial benefit in cracking the genetic code of pathogens [in space.] This is the kind of thing the very creative private sector will help us with, and it's a secret to living on other planets."
This University of Michigan nano-satellite inspired projects at NASA Ames.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times