GOP Rep. Rohrabacher gets to the bottom of Martian civilization: There wasn’t any

A Republican lawmaker asked a panel of NASA scientists Tuesday for opinions on whether Mars could have had civilized life “thousands of years ago.” He did it, his spokesman later clarified, with a “wink.”

“You have indicated that Mars had — was totally different thousands of years ago,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., asked during a hearing of the space subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. “Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?”

The congressman’s question followed earlier testimony by NASA scientist Kenneth Farley about plans for the Mars 2020 mission, which involves looking for evidence of life on the red planet from the first billion years of the solar system.

“Prior to about 3.6 billion years ago, Mars had rivers, lakes and possibly a vast northern ocean,” Farley said earlier in the hearing. “Sophisticated analyses … have richly documented ancient environments with all conditions believed necessary to sustain life [on Mars].”

Farley corrected Rohrabacher’s question, stating, “So, the evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago, not thousands of years ago.”

The NASA scientist continued, “There is no evidence that I’m aware of that —”

Rohrabacher cut Farley off and rephrased his question, asking, “Would you rule that out?”

“I would say that is extremely unlikely,” Farley said.

A Martian-fighting machine hovering over London, from a 1906 edition of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells. (Illustration: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Rohrabacher’s spokesman Ken Grubbs told Yahoo News that the congressman “did not have ancestry on his mind” — meaning, he said, the ancestry of members of Congress — when he asked about ancient Mars civilizations.

Nor was the congressman looking for NASA to confirm the possibility of extraterrestrials, Grubbs added. On the contrary, because of his position, he “not infrequently” gets asked about life on other planets. “I believe he was trying to lead the witnesses into denying firmly their knowledge of such evidence,” Grubbs said, adding: “You might not have heard the wink.”

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