The NASA scientist, who oversaw the first two humanities flights to land on Mars, spent the rest of his life convinced that the things he found in his mission were best explained by the presence of life on the planet.
Photo: Getty Images)
Prior to his death earlier this year at the age of 97, NASA researcher Gilbert V. Levin was convinced he had found life on Mars.
It originated from Levin, who oversaw NASA’s Viking space probe program 45 years earlier, where a couple of unmanned space flight missions landed on the red planet.
The goal of the program, which first touched Mars from Earth, was to detect any gases or microorganisms on the surface of the planet.
Using a testing method called Labeled Release (LR), Viking landers conducted experiments at four different locations. They also took the first high-resolution images of its surface.
At the time, Levin wrote, “July 30, 1976 LR [Labelled Release test] restored the original results from Mars. Amazingly, they were positive. “
To his and everyone’s great surprise, the results they produced were “similar to the results of soil LR tests.”
Why didn’t other scientists believe Gilbert V. Levin’s theory of life on Mars?
The discovery of scientist Gilbert V. Levin was not unshakable in another experiment using a different method, the Viking Molecular Analysis Experiment, which did not return evidence for organic matter.
The second discovery led to the conclusion that Levin’s probe was instead likely to “imitate life, but not life.”
Levin was convinced that the discoveries of the Viking probes best explained life on Mars)
However, Levin did not accept the conclusions drawn from the second sounding. In 2019, he wrote, “It is inexplicable that during the Viking’s 43 years, none of NASA’s later Mars landers have had live observation tools to track these exciting results.”
His belief that life had been discovered affected the rest of his career.
He said, “I gave a speech at the National Academy of Science and I said we’ve spotted life and there was a fuss.”
It is understood that the “uproar” actually turned into shrimp thrown from a buffet to a scientist, and one participant even approached him to say, “You have desecrated yourself and science.”
But Levin did not retreat, citing reasons he believed to be right, for he believed that the sonar’s findings were best explained by the presence of life on Mars.
He found that the water surfaces found on the planet’s seemingly barren, dry, and heavily irradiated surface — as well as the observed imbalance and the disappearance of methane from the atmosphere — indicated that life existed.
“Its carbon dioxide should have been converted to carbon dioxide a long time ago by the sun’s UV light,” he said.
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He was rejected by many, but the scientist’s belief in the success of the LR experiment in the Viking operation remained until his death.
Nine years before his death, in 2012, he and a group of scientists re-examined the findings of the Viking program’s LR tests, at which point they concluded that the tests had found “preserving microbial life on Mars.”
Levin also claimed that much of the microbial finds on Mars could have come from Earth. This theory was supported by NASA scientist Chris McKay, who admitted that the two planets had no doubt “exchanged spit” for billions of years.
Levin’s findings may have since gained support after an experiment that showed the microorganisms survived the harsh cold, and the irradiation was performed outside the International Space Station, suggesting that the microorganisms could also live on Mars.
“The results presented in this study may raise awareness of planetary protection concerns, for example in the atmosphere of Mars, which absorbs UV radiation below 190-200 nm,” the findings said.