Christopher McKay (planetary scientist)

Christopher McKay (planetary scientist)
Dr. Christopher McKay

Christopher P. McKay is a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, studying planetary atmospheres, astrobiology, and terraforming. McKay received his PhD in astrogeophysics from the University of Colorado in 1982 and his bachelor's degree from Florida Atlantic University.



McKay has done extensive research on planetary atmospheres, particularly the atmospheres of Titan[1] and Mars, and on the origin and evolution of life.[2] He is a co-investigator on the Huygens probe, the Mars Phoenix lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory. He has also performed field research on extremophiles, in such locations as Death Valley, the Atacama Desert,[3] Axel Heiberg Island, 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 and also works with the Mars Society. He has written and spoken extensively on space exploration and terraforming.[4][5][6] He is also NASA Ames Co-Director for the Microbes Mind Forum.

McKay on the ethics of terraforming

Dr. McKay advocates a moderately biocentric position in the ethics of terraforming, arguing that we must thoroughly explore a planet such as Mars 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.[7] McKay has held a series of public debates with Robert Zubrin, who advocates a moderately anthropocentric position on the ethics of terraforming.[8][9]


  1. ^ e.g. Photochemically Driven Collapse of Titan's Atmosphere, Ralph D. Lorenz, Christopher P. McKay, and Jonathan I. Lunine, Science, Vol. 275 pp. 642 - 644, 31 Jan. 1997
  2. ^ Organic Synthesis in Experimental Impact Shocks, Christopher P. McKay and William J. Borucki, Science, Vo. 276 pp. 390-392, 18 April 1997
  3. ^ Microbial Life in the Atacama Desert, R. M. Maier, K. P. Drees, J. W. Neilson, D. A. Henderson, J. Quade, J. L. Betancourt;, Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez, Fred A. Rainey, and Christopher P. McKay, Science, Vol. 306 pp. 1289-1290, 19 November 2004
  4. ^ R.H. Haynes and C.P. McKay, "The Implantation of Life on Mars: Feasibility and Motivation," Adv. Space Res., 12, (4)133-(4)140 (1992).
  5. ^ C.P. McKay and M.M. Marinova, "The Physics, Biology and Environmental Ethics of Making Mars Habitable," Astrobiology, 1, 89-109 (2001).
  6. ^ M.M. Marinova, C.P. McKay and H. Hashimoto, "Radiative-Convective Model of Warming Mars using Artificial Super-Greenhouse Gases," J.Geophys.Res., 110, E03002, doi:10.1029/2004JE002306 (2005).
  7. ^ C.P. McKay, "Let's Put Martian Life First," The Planetary Report, XXI(4), 4-5 (2001).
  8. ^ C.P. McKay and R.M. Zubrin, "Do Indigenous Martian Bacteria have Precedence over Human Exploration?" in On to Mars: Colonizing a New World (pp. 177-182)
  9. ^ R.M. Zubrin and C.P. McKay, "A World for the Winning: The Exploration and Terraforming of Mars," The Planetary Report, XII(5), 16-19 (1992).

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