Speech at White House on Search for Life on Mars Conference

August 7, 1996, 1:34 p.m.

I would like to make some comments about today's announcement by NASA.

This is the product of years of exploration, and months of intensive study by some of the world's most distinguished scientists. Like all discoveries, this one will and should continue to be reviewed, examined and scrutinized. It must be confirmed by other scientists. But clearly the fact that something of this magnitude is being explored is another vindication of American's space program, and our continuing support for it, even in these tough financial times.

I am determined that the American space program will put its full intellectual power and technological prowess behind the search for further evidence of life on Mars. First, I have asked Administrator Goldin to ensure that this finding is subject to a methodical process of further peer review and validation. Second, I have asked the Vice-President to convene at the White House, before the end of the year, a bi- partisan space summit on the future of American's space program. The significant purpose of this summit will be to discuss how America should pursue answers to the scientific questions raised by this finding. Third, we are committed to the aggressive plan we have put in place for robotic exploration of Mars. America's next unmanned mission to Mars is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in November. It will be followed by a second mission in December. I should tell you that the first mission is scheduled to land on Mars, on July 4, 1997--Independence Day.

It is well worth contemplating how we reached this moment of discovery. More than 4 billion years ago this piece of rock was formed as a part of the original crust of Mars. After billions of years it broke from the surface and began a 16 million year journey through space that would end here on Earth. It arrived in a meteor shower 13,000 years ago. Then in 1984, an American scientist on an annual U.S. Government mission to search for meteors on Antarctica, picked it up and took it to be studied. Appropriately, it was the first rock to be picked up that year (rock No. 84001). Today, rock 84001 speaks to us across all those billions of years and millions of miles. It speaks of the possibility of life. If this discovery is confirmed it will surely be one of the most stunning insights into our universe that science has ever uncovered. Its implications are as far-reaching and awe-inspiring as can be imagined. Even as it promises answers to some of our oldest questions it poses still others even more fundamental. We will continue to listen closely to what it has to say, as we continue the search for answers and for knowledge that is as old as the humanity itself but essential to our people's future.