Lawler strongly disagreed, arguing that Apollo is a model, and the problem is that the science community is still “hooked” on that model, but everything has changed, and the model does not work anymore. It is a psychological problem in the space community that is being overcome quietly by using Twitter and other social media to reach the public, adding “I don’t think we will see a single massive program.” China and India may take that approach because they have not done it yet, “but we will not repeat it,” he insisted.
From the audience, Sara Seager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, asked what the motivation is for planetary exploration. Her issue appeared to be the extent to which solar system exploration is designed to search for life because one would have a different program if that is the primary motivation. Efforts would be focused on studying methane on Mars and not exploring the rest of the solar system. Hammel repeated what she had said earlier, that the motivation is to understand planetary processes so we can better understand Earth. Seager disagreed and asked Stone for his comments. Stone said that Mars is not the only possible location for life in the solar system, and that Enceladus, Europa, and Titan are other possibilities. More missions are needed, but “we can’t do everything, you have to make choices,” and that is the task of the ongoing National Research Council Planetary Science Decadal Survey.
An audience member asked about how to take the public “along for the ride.” Woodward replied that most people who buy a ticket for a ride want a destination and to answer a question on the journey. In this context, he asked the panelists whether the search for life is the right motivating question that can engage not only the scientists, but the public who need to support it. Scheufele said the interest of scientists on one hand and the public and politicians on the other do not have to be at odds. The key is to find a hook to draw the public in, and often it turns out to be some “weird side story” that attracts attention. Lawler added that there are scientific questions and then there are questions about how to get the public and politicians to fund them. He cited the Mars meteorite ALH 84001 as an example—public interest translated into money to explore Mars, even though many scientists were skeptical of the claims.