Science: The Life Lab

The spindly three-legged spacecraft sits silently on the dry, barren landscape. Suddenly, on command from controllers some 200 million miles away, the robot comes alive. A motor whirls; a slender, 10-ft. long arm reaches out, opens a small scoop and digs up some of the reddish soil.

Then the arm retracts, twists its wrist and drops the dirt into a small, mesh-covered opening on top of the spacecraft. Inside, analyzers go to work. Within a few weeks, the spacecraft sends a momentous radio message back to earth: Life exists on Mars.

This dramatic scenario is...

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