On Tuesday, the Space Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology met for what could have been a routine hearing. For just over a minute, however, that two-hour session diverged into stranger and more speculative territory.
As Space.com reports, the hearing “was a general discussion of NASA’s upcoming planetary-science missions, with a focus on the 2020 rover and Europa Clipper.” Along the way, Kenneth Farley, a professor of geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology and a Mars Rover 2020 project scientist, brought up evidence suggesting that Mars may have been habitable long, long ago.
To be clear, those indications point to the mere possibility of microbial life, not, as Space.com puts it, of “intelligent organisms.” Nevertheless, Farley’s comments were enough to pique the curiosity of one member of the subcommittee, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher.
Requesting a minute to bring up what he called “the most important thing,” Rohrabacher asked, “You have indicated that Mars … was totally different thousands of years ago. Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?”
In the video, you can see a young boy behind Rohrabacher suddenly lean over to whisper something to his own seat mate. Farley, meanwhile, barely seems to pause before responding with a correction.
“So, the evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago … not thousands of years ago,” Farley said. “There is no evidence that I am aware of.”
“Would you rule that out?” Rohrabacher broke in.
Here, Farley took a more conclusive tone, though he still maintained a scientist’s commitment to uncertainty: “I would say that is extremely unlikely.”
At this point, the conversation moved on, giving Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin the last word on the issue: “Looking forward to finding out what’s up there. That’s for sure.”
Now, it’s easy enough to make fun of Rohrabacher’s line of questioning, and plenty have. Where Space.com takes a flatly dismissive tone, Ars Technica points out, “[L]ast month InfoWars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones entertained the notion that Earth children have been kidnapped and sent to slave camps on Mars.” Mashable, meanwhile, compared Rohrabacher to an “internet troll” and derided him for “wast[ing] NASA’s time.”
That’s all fair enough, but it’s worth remembering the U.S. government has wasted time of its own on these questions in the past. As I’ve reported before, in 1984, the U.S. Army had “psychic spy” Joseph McMoneagle astrally project to Mars. According to a document about that attempt, publicly available via the Central Intelligence Agency’s Reading Room site, McMoneagle says he saw evidence of ancient Martians, who had slipped into hibernation as a buffer against the planet’s increasingly inimical conditions.
That’s silly stuff, but, hey, the information is out there and Rohrabacher was just asking questions! I reached out to Rohrabacher’s spokesman, who simply told me, “Because of his position on the space committee, [Rohrabacher] not infrequently gets inquiries about this from far and wide. He was looking for something definitive. Apparently, many of those who covered the exchange didn’t hear the wink in his voice.”
We’ll leave it to you to determine whether you can identify that supposed “wink,” but we’ll say this much: Rohrabacher’s office neither confirmed nor denied whether the history of psychic spying influenced the representative’s line of inquiry.