What are the driving forces which compel us to move beyond the field of gravity that defines human existence? Do we explore the darkness of space to understand our own beginnings? Do we seek out other life forms to assure us that we are not alone? These questions are raised among our leaders and even citizens who want reassurance that their financial commitment has meaning and purpose.

From the time Homo sapiens could venture from the savannah of Africa, there has been no turning back on finding and even conquering new lands. Searching for resources, either plant, animal or mineral is wired into the DNA fabric that defines us as human. Thus, it would make complete sense that our desire to explore is for commercial benefit. Yet, there is something more profound in the exploration that humans are attempting as they move through the cosmos. Because it is harder to define, it may be harder to sell to those who need to support it to ensure its success. Although many of us will agree that that is human nature to venture into the unknown as demonstrated by almost every acre of land on this planet that has been visited, developed or just surveyed.

In 2011, NASA has taken monumental steps to further unravel some of the mysteries of life in the Universe. It launched the $2.4 billion Mars Science Laboratory and its rover Curiosity loaded with cameras and video equipment as well as the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM). SAM will measure the amount of elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, the building blocks of life, in soil and rock samples on Mars. Depending on the planet’s position in its orbit, it is 400 million miles away. However, humans have always viewed this planet as a relative to earth. Perhaps, a hostile relative, but one that can reveal the inner secrets of earth’s early existence and evolution of life.

But it is not just enough to explore in our solar system. There are planets to be found in other galaxies. The NASA Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet that may occupy the “Goldilocks” zone. It is the right distance from its star and has a temperature that is hospitable to life. One such planet is called Kepler-22B which is 600 light years from earth. It is 2.4 times the radius of earth and its ambient temperature may be around 72 degrees (F). Further observation is needed to confirm it existence as a planet, but the initial results are very promising.

It is curious that humans have this need to search for life in other worlds. Perhaps this drive is more spiritual, more fundamental to the essence to what defines humanity. Even though, our history has been shaped by division, inequities and war, this can be transcended by one factor which could unite all humans on the planet. If we did find ‘life” in the Universe, we would no longer be identified by our race, religion, sex/gender, age or culture. We would be identified as “human” and would unite to become one.

Dr. Mark is the President of SolaMed Solutions, LLC, a world renowned leader in women’s health, an endocrinologist, geriatrician and women’s health specialist, was the first Senior Medical Advisor to the Office on Women’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  She designed the first women’s health fellowship in the Nation, helped create the National Centers of Leadership in Academic Medicine, the National Centers of Excellence in Women’s Health in academic and community health centers across the country and landmark educational campaigns on critical health issues. She recently authored a book entitled Stellar Medicine: A Journey Through the Universe of Women’s Health.

This post was originally featured in the May/June issue of Mars Exploration Magazine.

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