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Will the rover reveal that Mars might once have been hospitable for microbial life — or might even still be conducive to life?

This week's Question: The Curiosity rover, NASA's biggest extraterrestrial explorer, was launched toward Mars last week. The mobile laboratory, 10 feet long by 9 feet wide, will search for evidence that the planet was once hospitable to microbrial life. The device's on-board instruments are designed to hunt for organic compounds. What do you think? Will the rover reveal that Mars might once have been hospitable for microbial life — or might even still be conducive to life?

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Will we be able to design an "operating system" for a living biological cell?

This week's Question: As part of a five-year, $1.58 million research project named AudACiOus, a group of University of Nottingham scientists will attempt to program the genetic components of a cell to perform any desired function, without requiring extensive modification to the cell. If successful, the team would develop a cell's equivalent of a computer operating system, which could be re-programmed with different "applications" and serve as an easier method for creating new life forms. Researchers say the project could lead to the creation of completely new cellular life forms that could do anything from cleaning up pollutants in the environment to detecting and treating viruses before they enter the human body. Although there have been successes in the bioengineering field, the manipulation of cell parts to run a reprogrammable "cellular operating system" remains a laborious and expensive endeavor. Additionally, it is difficult to predict the behavior of cells in a laboratory environment. What do you think? Will we be able to design an "operating system" for a living biological cell?

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Are you concerned that children are spending more time than ever in front of screens?

This week's Question: A new study from Common Sense Media shows that infants and toddlers spend twice as much time with screen media as they do with books. While television is still the dominant media device in most young children's lives, the study, based on responses of more than 1,300 parents, found that more than 38 percent of kids under 8 years old have used a smartphone, video iPod, or iPad. What do you think? Are you concerned that children are spending more time than ever in front of screens?

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Is the discovery of intelligent alien life unlikely?

This week's Question: Two recent ePetitions on a "We the People" petition site asked the government to acknowledge the presence of aliens. A reply from a research assistant from the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy emphasized that the government was actively looking for aliens, through the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, the Kepler telescope and upcoming Mars science laboratory, but hadn't found any yet. "The odds of us making contact with any of them —especially any intelligent ones—are extremely small, given the distances involved," he said. Do you agree? Given the distances involved, is the discovery of intelligent alien life unlikely?

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Will there be enough of a market to justify taxpayer investment in new, private space taxis?

This week's Question: Last week, leaders of various commercial space companies argued for the future of their industry in front of a House panel, as lawmakers questioned whether there would be enough of a market in space transportation and tourism to justify taxpayer investment in new, private vehicles. Some argue that if NASA is the only customer buying seats on these new spaceships, the government may someday be put in the position of bailing them out in order to preserve a national space transportation capability. Commercial executives, on the other hand, argued that their businesses would be successful even if NASA were their only customer, and also cited other potential sources of income, such as cargo transportation and satellite servicing, as well as selling rides to private citizens and astronauts from countries without their own space programs. What do you think? Will there be enough of a market to in new, private space taxis?

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Will autonomous vehicles increase efficiency and make us safer?

This week's Question: Google has been testing its autonomous cars on public roads. The search giant's fleet of robotic Toyota Priuses has now logged more than 190,000 miles, driving in city traffic, busy highways, and mountainous roads, with only occasional human intervention. The Google team asserts that the smarter vehicles could help make transportation safer and more efficient. For example, cars could drive closer to each other, making better use of the empty space on roads, and also form speedy convoys on freeways. The vehicles would also react faster than humans to avoid accidents. Do you agree? Will autonomous vehicles increase efficiency and make us safer?

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Are you alarmed by the information collected by Verizon and other wireless carriers?

This week's Question: Verizon, the U.S. largest wireless carrier, recently announced that it will "create business and marketing reports" and "make the mobile ads you see more relevant," based on the information the company collects pertaining to a user's Web surfing destinations, applications, and location information. Verizon stated that none of the information used or shared will be personally identifiable, and those customers who don't want their information shared can choose to opt-out of the feature. Although Verizon is not the only wireless carrier to adopt this type of data-AT&T and Sprint have similar processes, for example-many skeptics cite the privacy implications of mobile advertising. What do you think? Are you alarmed by the information collected by Verizon and other wireless carriers?

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