LIVE UPDATES: The 7th Arabian Business Forum

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JPL Director Charles Elachi.

JPL Director Charles Elachi.

14:30: Things are just about winding down now at the 7th Arabian Business Forum, and so our live coverage ends here. Please check in at ArabianBusiness.com to follow more news and views about the forum as they come through. Thank you very much for joining us today.

13:05: What about manned flight? "There's no programme right now, but we are starting to prepare for it. We are thinking in about 2036 we will aim for that. It's a big engineering challenge - if you consider three or four people, and all the water, food and garbage they produce, for an 18-month flight, it's tough - but it is possible".

Elachi says he would be "pleasantly surprised" if evidence of life was discovered, and he does sound confident. When it comes to travelling further afield, obviously the distances prohibit exploration. "I think it's unlikely in the foreseeable future, unless there is a huge scientific breakthrough - but in this business you have to be patient." It's been a fascinating discussion, and Dr Elachi leaves the stage to a huge round of applause. We're breaking for lunch now, but will be back with you shortly.

13:00: One of the first surprises was the location of what was once a river - evidenced by the fact that pebbles in a particular layer were smooth and rounded. The only natural process that causes that is running water.

Elachi says he received literally tens of thousands of emails from all around the world, which have been a huge inspiration to him. Now it's time for questions. "Are we going to be invaded?" asks Andrew. "You should worry more about your neighbours," laughs Elachi.

One of the key questions Elachi is wrestling with is the fact that Mars has evolved from a relatively warm planet, to a much colder one. His team is trying to establish whether life could have existed in that warmer time. In about four years time, a new mission will drill down into the planet's surface.

12:45: We're now watching a short video the Curiosity mission - from testing the rover itself, to mission launch last year, and its nine-month journey to Mars. To hit the right landing spot, the JPL team had to do the equivalent of hitting a hole in one from Los Angeles to Dubai - into a moving cup. Right now, the rover is preparing to drive up a 15,000 foot mountain to carrying out survey work on sedimentary rock.

12:35: The influence of Arab astronomers over the centuries has been vital, Elachi says. They have named and discovered many of the planets and stars that we know so well today. He's now discussing Mars - and the remarkable similarities between geological formations on Earth and the Red Planet. They are indistinguishable - even he gets confused sometimes, he says. His team has focused on sedimentary layers on Mars, which gives an indication of the planet's history. So far, the Curiosity Rover - and two other rovers - have already found evidence of what looks like rivers and oceans that have existed in the past.

Right now, the Curiosity rover, launched in August, is looking for signs of organic material. If there is organic material as well as water, then there could - at some point - have been life on Mars. During the launch, over 50m people in the US logged onto NASA's site to check up on Curiosity's landing. 

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