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But what if we find extant life on Mars — for example, a layer of bustling bacteria lying several meters below Mars’ sterile surface? What would we do? Would someone tell Elon Musk to put his planned excursions to Mars on hold because the planet has an indigenous population?
Clearly, this is a scenario for which we’re unprepared. Even if the new Mars robotic explorers only find evidence for a biota that went extinct billions of years ago, it’s not clear we have a battle plan for the science we’d want to do next. Green’s admonition applies: Unlike the Boy Scouts, we’re not quite prepared.