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Congressman asks NASA scientist about ancient Martian civilizations, and things get awkward

Published Jul 19th, 2017 7:50PM EDT

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Being an elected official means that you should probably have a working knowledge of whatever topic it is you’re planning to publicly address at any given time. Many government talking heads fall far short of that requirement on a regular basis, and the latest example is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. At a congressional meeting with some of NASA’s top scientists to discuss the prospects of further exploration of planets and moons in our Solar System, Rohrabacher asked a question that would seemingly have been more fitting in the wake of the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Rohrabacher asked about martians.

After praising the work NASA has been doing, as well as addressing the plans of a new rover on Mars by 2020, the Republican congressman had one last thing he wanted to ask. “You have indicated that Mars was totally different thousands of years ago,” he told the researchers, who were no doubt already rolling their eyes. “Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?”

The few silent seconds that followed, as NASA’s Kenneth Farley of the Mars 2020 project pondered how to respond, are quite suspenseful. “So,” Farley began, keeping a straight face. “The evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago. Not thousands of years ago.”

“Billions, well, yes,” Rohrabacher brushed off the correction.

“There’s no evidence that I’m aware of,” Farley said, undoubtedly assuming that would be the end of that particular line of questioning, but Rohrabacher wasn’t quite satisfied.

“Would you rule that out?” the congressman pressed.

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

A couple of mumbles later, Rohrabacher thanked the scientists for their work before passing the questioning to the next congressman. Rohrabacher’s spokesperson would later suggest that the question was tongue-in-cheek, but if it was, it certainly didn’t come across that way.

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