Christopher McKay

Christopher McKay

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Christopher P. McKay is a planetary scientist
Planetary science
Planetary science is the scientific study of planets , moons, and planetary systems, in particular those of the Solar System and the processes that form them. It studies objects ranging in size from micrometeoroids to gas giants, aiming to determine their composition, dynamics, formation,...

 at NASA Ames Research Center
NASA Ames Research Center
The Ames Research Center , is one of the United States of America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration 10 major field centers.The centre is located in Moffett Field in California's Silicon Valley, near the high-tech companies, entrepreneurial ventures, universities, and other...

, studying planetary atmospheres, astrobiology
Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This interdisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry,...

, and terraforming
Terraforming of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to those of Earth, in order to make it habitable by terrestrial organisms.The term is sometimes used more generally as a...

. McKay received his PhD in astrogeophysics from the University of Colorado
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

 in 1982 and his bachelor's degree from Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University, also referred to as FAU or Florida Atlantic, is a public, coeducational, research university located in , United States. The university has six satellite campuses located in the Florida cities of Dania Beach, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter, Port St. Lucie, and in Fort...



McKay has done extensive research on planetary atmospheres, particularly the atmospheres of Titan
Titan (moon)
Titan , or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found....

 and Mars, and on the origin and evolution of life. He is a co-investigator on the Huygens probe
Huygens probe
The Huygens probe was an atmospheric entry probe carried to Saturn's moon Titan as part of the Cassini–Huygens mission. The probe was supplied by the European Space Agency and named after the Dutch 17th century astronomer Christiaan Huygens....

, the Mars Phoenix lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory
Mars Science Laboratory
The Mars Science Laboratory is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission with the aim to land and operate a rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. The MSL was launched November 26, 2011, at 10:02 EST and is scheduled to land on Mars at Gale Crater between August 6 and 20, 2012...

. He has also performed field research on extremophiles, in such locations as Death Valley
Death Valley
Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California. Situated within the Mojave Desert, it features the lowest, driest, and hottest locations in North America. Badwater, a basin located in Death Valley, is the specific location of the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below...

, the Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest desert in the world...

, Axel Heiberg Island
Axel Heiberg Island
Axel Heiberg Island is an island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. Located in the Arctic Ocean, it is the 31st largest island in the world and Canada's seventh largest island. According to Statistics Canada, it has an area of ....

, and ice-covered lakes in Antarctica.

In addition to his professional work, McKay is a member of the board of directors of the Planetary Society
Planetary Society
The Planetary Society is a large, publicly supported, non-government and non-profit organization that has many research projects related to astronomy...

 and also works with the Mars Society
Mars Society
The Mars Society is an international space advocacy non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars. It was founded by Robert Zubrin and others in 1998 and attracted the support of notable science fiction writers and filmmakers, including Kim...

. He has written and spoken extensively on space exploration
Space exploration
Space exploration is the use of space technology to explore outer space. Physical exploration of space is conducted both by human spaceflights and by robotic spacecraft....

 and terraforming. He is also an adviser for the Microbes Mind Forum.

McKay on the ethics of terraforming

Dr. McKay advocates a moderately biocentric
Biocentrism (ethics)
Biocentrism , in a political and ecological sense, is an ethical point of view which extends inherent value to non-human species, ecosystems, and processes in nature - regardless of their sentience...

 position in the ethics of terraforming
Ethics of terraforming
The ethics of terraforming has constituted a philosophical debate within biology, ecology, and environmental ethics as to whether terraforming other worlds is an ethical endeavor.-Support:...

, arguing that we must thoroughly explore a planet such as Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 first to discover whether there is any microbial life before taking first steps toward terraforming, and that if indigenous alien life is found in an obscure niche or dormant on Mars, we should remove all Earth life and alter Mars to support the global spread of this alien life on Mars. McKay has held a series of public debates with Robert Zubrin
Robert Zubrin
Robert Zubrin is an American aerospace engineer and author, best known for his advocacy of the manned exploration of Mars. He was the driving force behind Mars Direct—a proposal intended to produce significant reductions in the cost and complexity of such a mission...

, who advocates a moderately anthropocentric
Anthropocentrism describes the tendency for human beings to regard themselves as the central and most significant entities in the universe, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective....

 position on the ethics of terraforming.

External links

  • NASA biography
  • Planetary Society biography
  • Video of Chris McKay on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, "Are We Bound for Space?" panel discussion with Chris Hadfield
    Chris Hadfield
    Chris Austin "Chris" Hadfield, O.Ont, MSC, CD is a Canadian astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency who was the first Canadian to walk in space. Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions, STS-74 in 1995 and STS-100 in 2001. He has served as CAPCOM for both Space Shuttle and International...

    , Lawrence Krauss, Donna Shirley
    Donna Shirley
    Donna Shirley is a former manager of Mars Exploration at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is the author of the book Managing Martians: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman's Lifelong Quest to Get to Mars—and of the Team Behind the Space Robot That Has Captured the Imagination of the World...

    , Karl Schroeder
    Karl Schroeder
    Karl Schroeder is an award-winning Canadian science fiction author. His novels present far-future speculations on topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality and interstellar travel, and have a deeply philosophical streak...

     and Robert D. Richards
    Robert D. Richards
    Robert D. Richards is a Canadian-born space entrepreneur. He is co-founder and CEO of Moon Express, Inc., a U.S. company awarded a $10M commercial lunar contract by NASA and a competitor in the Google Lunar X PRIZE...