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Dr. Gil Levin, Friday, 1-23-15 January 24, 2015

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Dr. Gil Levin, Friday, 1-23-15


Guest: Dr. Gil Levin. Topics: Searching for life on Mars, 1976 Viking Labeled Release Experiments and more. Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm. For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed back Dr. Gil Levin to discuss searching for and finding microbial life on Mars. During the first segment of our 86 minute program, Dr. Levin first responded to an email question about the type of science equipment needed to find life on Mars & why was it missing from Curiosity. He also wanted to know if it could be added to the Mars 2020 mission. As Dr. Levin pointed out, MSL and Curiosity were not equipped with any life detection instrumentation. As for Mars 2020, it will collect samples and store them for a future sample return mission to Earth. Dr. Levin had much to say about a sample return mission as part of this discussion. Dr. Levin then went over his Label Release Experiments (LRE) from the 1976 Viking Landers and said many times during the show that not only was it suitable for detecting life, it did detect life. Gil then spent the better part of the first segment talking about life detection on Mars, the need to convene an expert panel to look at all the data available today to come to scientific conclusions about microbial life on Mars and more. Listeners emailed many questions to Dr. Levin asking about bacteria that could survive in the Mars environment, perchlorates, & XE-129. Doug from S. California phoned in and wanted to know if NASA had made a choice not to detect life on Mars as he thought they were avoiding doing so. Doug had several additional questions for Dr. Levin.

In the second segment, Kirk called to ask about the chiro experiment, LRE, and the use of fresh samples. Following up on what I asked our guest as the earlier segment ended, I asked Gil what was wrong with the step by step methodology NASA was using regarding Mars life research. Later he talked about the LRE being an effective tool for today, its use of Carbon 14, then he talked about putting a microscope on Mars and why that would be beneficial. I asked Gil if he had anticipated the controversy surrounding the LRE and he said no. Another listener asked about first going to one of the Martian moons. Gil explained why he thought that was a bad idea. He was also asked about Europa instead of Mars 2020. We talked about the high interest level in finding life on Mars and Gil said he believed that their was microbial life on Mars today. Another listener wanted to know if the results of the Viking experiments were only valid for the two Viking locations or most likely widespread on Mars. Gil explained why the findings were most likely applicable across Mars. We discussed Mars and our space policy & he was asked about both RNA and DNA. Don’t miss his final comment about Occam’s razor and Martian DNA.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above. You can email Dr. Gil Levin through me.


1. Mark - January 25, 2015

There is a sort of pattern in the behavior of Mars scientists.

1. It is possible that the MSL team already ran the wet chemistry experiment, found something unusual, suspect, or

controversial and they are afraid to release confusing data (something similar to Viking Labeled Release).

2. There might be a sort of feeling of unanimity among NASA Mars scientists, maybe subconscious, without it being a crazy

conspiracy or sinister plot, that if they find life then the missions to Mars might be basically over; mission accomplished, so

what are you still sending all those billion-dollar robotic ships to Mars for? Therefore, let’s run dozens of missions exploring

every little possible facet of the geology and geochemistry of Mars, we will be busy for decades, and we can say we’re making

constant incremental improvements in our knowledge; sort of like Tantalus, always withing the reach of the goal, but never

there. If they find a hint of life, then the smoke screen blows away, and the jig is up.

3. The usual greed for fame, etc. They want to be the “team”, the scientist(s) that found the Holy Grail. If Viking’s data is

degraded in value to status of uncertain, confusing, nothing really there, then if they find a really strong biomarker, a huge peak

in the data… Well, they become the First Discoveres of Life on Another Planet.

It is also a bit lame on everybody’s part to let them sent a two-billion-dollar (!) mission to Mars without including a small,

diverse set of experiments to find out about the most important thing about the planet. And without holding their feet to the fire.

Matt - January 26, 2015

Mark, I agree, you present good points, not much to add. Can we use the term “Mars research industry”?

Dr. Gil Levin is such a fine, honorable and respectable man. NASA behavior against him is a shame, but goes conform with my present image of NASA. I support him in his view that MSL did not the important science required (in respect to life detection, which shall its main task not geology).


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