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Is scientific evidence of life on Mars being ignored by NASA?

We just caught up with a fascinating article which appeared four days ago at Scientific American.

It was written by Gilbert V. Levin, who was one of the scientists who worked on the Viking mission to Mars in 1976, and specifically on an experiment (the “Labeled Release” or LR) that was designed to find evidence of life on that planet.

Levin explains that in fact, the experiment on the lander did produce positive results, indicating evidence of what could be a byproduct of microbial life on Mars. And thousands of similar tests done by the same experiment on Earth had never produced either a false positive or a false negative.

However, a different experiment on the same lander didn’t find the presence of organic matter, Levin explains, and so “NASA concluded that the LR had found a substance mimicking life, but not life.”


But here’s the thing that’s so interesting. In the 40 years since, he says, none of the subsequent landers that have gone to Mars have carried experiments which might test or confirm those 1976 positive results. Why not?

It’s hard not to conclude that if definite proof of microbial life was found on the planet, it would make the prospect of sending astronauts there very problematic. “Any life there might threaten them, and us upon their return. Thus, the issue of life on Mars is now front and center.”

Another lander is scheduled to go to Mars next year. And once again, it won’t have the ability to test for life-detection. Shouldn’t the agency rethink that?

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