NASA has plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface in the near future. Next year, four astronauts will orbit the moon.

"We don't need to go back to the moon just for the moon. We're going back to learn new things. In order for us to go to Mars and beyond," said Administrator Bill Nelson.

The Perseverance Rover is exploring the Jezero Crater on Mars, which was once a lake on the red planet. Scientists believe life may have existed there in the distant past.

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"It's getting samples and it's drilling with this drill, creating these core samples about the size of a cigar and sealing them up in these titanium tubes," Nelson explained. "We're trying to figure out right now how we're going to go back and get them and bring them back to Earth, so that we got an idea of whether or not there was life there."

NASA is now working with several companies to develop a plan for the return mission, which could happen in the 2030s. The agency is also working with Firebird Diagnostics in the search for life on Mars.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said NASA is preparing for the possibility of discovering life in space. (Getty Images)

"NASA's mission is to go out, among other things, and discover whether or not we are alone," said Firebird Diagnostics Founder Steven Benner.

His company sells so-called alien DNA. It uses synthetic properties and has helped NASA understand what possible forms of alternative DNA might exist.

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"It's a big question as to how molecular biology could be done if it was, done by an organism that does not share a common ancestor, a common origin, with you and me," Benner said.

The DNA has also helped detect diseases like Covid-19, cancer and HIV here on Earth. Human DNA has four nucleotides or building blocks. Benner’s synthetic material has up to eight. They allow for more sensitive testing and eliminate false positives.

U.S.-NASA-PRESEVERANCE-ROVER-LANDING

This image made available by NASA shows an illustration of NASA's Perseverance Rover landing safely on Mars. (Xinhua/NASA/JPL-Caltech via Getty Images)

"It allows you to get that needle in the haystack without having to worry about all the background information," Benner said.

Nelson says searching for life on other planets helps us understand better who we are in the universe.

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"If you ask me directly, do I think that there are aliens here on Earth? I don't think so. I don't absolutely know. And I don't think the U.S. government is hiding anything from anybody. But if you ask me, ‘do I think there's life out there in the cosmos?,’" Nelson said. "I ask our NASA scientists that question, ‘how many possibilities in the vastness of this universe are there, that there's another planet like Earth that would be habitable for life as something like we know it?’ They said at least a trillion."

Nelson says while the odds that life may exist in space, whatever it may be, likely exists so far away that it won’t be discovered for a long time. However, NASA is still preparing for the possibility.

BILL NELSON

Former US Senator Bill Nelson, now the administrator of NASA, speaks during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on April 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

"Even if you could travel at the speed of light to a far off distant world, the close ones are a thousand light years away," Nelson said. "That doesn't mean that we cannot have some kind of understanding of what's out there."

Nelson has asked NASA scientists to use artificial intelligence in the software of spacecrafts.

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"In a spacecraft like Voyager, that is out in interstellar space, that is beyond our solar system, if it came upon another spacecraft, it could real time learn to communicate with that other spacecraft," Nelson said. "That’s what we do at NASA. They make the impossible possible. It's a bunch of wizards around here."

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