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In the days when Mars had life, the 1970s …

Artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover

In “Mars life: Been there, done that?” ( MSNBC.com, , March 26, 2012), Alan Boyle reports,

NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission is due to deliver the car-sized Curiosity rover to the Red Planet in August — and although the space agency insists that Curiosity doesn’t have the capability to detect life, Levin believes it could show that his experiment was on the right track when it detected the chemical traces of organic activity.

Hopes of confirming the presence of life on Mars were riding high when the twin Viking landers touched down on Mars in 1976. The scientific payload included the Labeled Release apparatus, designed by Levin and his colleagues, as well as three other life-detection experiments. The Labeled Release experiment, or LR, was set up to take a bit of Martian soil and add a drop of water containing nutrients tagged with radioactive markers. The air above the mix was then monitored to see if it gave off a radioactive gas such as carbon dioxide or methane. That could be read as an indication that organisms in the soil were metabolizing the nutrients.

f the experiment came up with a positive response, a duplicate soil sample — the control — was heated to a temperature that should have been high enough to destroy microbes, but not to destroy any strong chemicals that might have produced a similar response sans life. …

Hope springs eternal.

Lichens, maybe?

Levin said lichen, which is one of the hardiest types of organisms on Earth’s surface, could conceivably have hitchhiked from Earth to Mars on meteorites. “Preserved, frozen, they could survive the entry to Mars and grow under Martian conditions,” he told me.

Look, at least these people are going somewhere and doing something, not just sitting around speculating about alternative universes, which you don’t even need to be scientist or engineer to do.

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