Right now, several miles above the surface of the earth, a huge wheeled robot is on its way to Mars, where, armed with "rock-zapping laser," it will seek out evidence of ancient extraterrestrial life.
We will admit to sharing somewhat in the pleasure of the scientific community at the launch of NASA's Curiosity rover, if only because we are firmly of the opinion that the farther away large robots are from our persons, the better. Otherwise, no good can come of outfitting a car-sized robot with a "equipment designed to identify organic compounds," which NASA foolishly claims will help it ferret out life on Mars, but which is more clearly useful as a way to identify humans for the robot farms, or worse, for zapping, with its laser.
Luckily for us, it is not actually seeking out living Martian aliens:
"Going layer by layer, we can do the main goal of this mission, which is to search for habitable environments, " Vasavada said. "Were any of those time periods in early Mars history time periods that could have supported microbial life?"
Curiosity isn't designed to search for Martian life. In fact, if the red dirt of Gale Crater does harbor microbes, the rover will almost certainly drive right over them unawares.
But MSL is a key bridge to future efforts that could actively hunt down possible Martian life forms, researchers said. Curiosity's work should help later missions determine where - and when - to look.
So there you have it! Something to look forward to: robots and Martians, joining forces sometime in the near future.