When John Grant was growing up in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, he spent the cold, dark, boring winters reading “The Martian Chronicles” and other science fiction. He was 16 years old when NASA’s Viking spacecraft landed on Mars—a moment that “lit my fascination,” he said, with space.
Now a geologist at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Grant works with rovers that explore the Red Planet’s surface. When invited to share one optimism about the future at “The Long Conversation,” an event that brought together 25 thinkers for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building last December, he had a big one: “Very soon we are going to know the answer to whether or not we’re alone in this universe.”
AOL co-founder Steve Case, who interviewed Grant on stage, prodded him for more details. The planetary geologist explained how explorations of Mars have shown that 3.5 or 4 billion years ago, the planet had lakes on its surface, and those lakes had a chemistry much like lakes here on Earth, suggesting that the environment was habitable in the past.
“I have to scratch my head and say I grew up next to a lake,” Grant says. “I know that the conditions I’m seeing there on Earth must have been at some level similar to what I’m seeing now on these images of Mars.”
Listen to Grant explain why he’s 80 percent sure there was once life on Mars.
Mark your calendars for this year’s “Long Conversation,” which will bring an impressive group of scientists, musicians, inventors, tech CEOs and others together on December 7, 2018. Watch it on livestream here.