Carol Stoker is a staff planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. Carol has a broad range of interests and skills. Most recent work is focused on developing instruments and robotic systems for space exploration and testing them in terrestrial analog environments. She has led field experiments in the Antarctic, Arctic, undersea, and deserts in the southwestern US to demonstrate robotic systems to search for life on other planets. Her projects have won six NASA group achievement awards and she has over 100 publications. She is actively involved in the robotic exploration of Mars and in planning for future human exploration. She is currently a co-investigator on the Mars Phoenix mission that recently performed sampling near the north pole of Mars to search for habitable environments for life. She also currently leads activities to develop and test drilling systems to access the Martian subsurface to search for evidence of life.
Carol Stoker’s presentation at the Foresight Space Workshop ’23 delves into the fascinating topic of the search for extant life on Mars. She provides an overview of the pioneering Viking missions in 1976, which detected metabolism on the planet but faced challenges in confirming it as biological. Stoker then explores the three potential habitats for life on Mars: salts, brines, ground ice, and caves. Salts, including perchlorate brines, have the potential to create liquid water environments, while ground ice contributes to saturated conditions. Mars caves, with their warmer and wetter conditions, offer the possibility of habitable environments. However, Stoker highlights the limitations of previous Mars missions, which primarily focused on rocks and lacked the necessary instrument capabilities for identifying biosignatures of life. Moreover, she emphasizes the potential conflict between sending humans to Mars and the search for life due to contamination risks. Assessing the risks of human exploration on Mars, particularly the consequences of bringing Martian biology back to Earth, is crucial before any manned missions.