The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has refuted claims by a former employee that “evidence” of organic life was discovered during a pair of missions to Mars back in 1976, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said in an email to Fox News.
Gilbert V. Levin, a former NASA researcher, revealed last week in an article entitled “I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s” published by Scientific American that a Labeled Release (LR) experiment which tested several samples from the Martian soil for signs of carbon dioxide during the Viking Lander 1 and 2 missions came back positive. However, NASA is not convinced the experiment’s results were sufficient to prove the presence of life on Mars.
"The collective general opinion of the large majority of the scientific community does not believe the results of the Viking experiments alone rise to the level of extraordinary evidence", NASA spokesman Allard Beutel wrote to Fox News.
"One of NASA’s key goals is the search for life in the universe. Although we have yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life, NASA is exploring the solar system and beyond to help us answer fundamental questions, including whether we are alone in the universe", Beutal continued.
“From studying water on Mars, probing promising 'oceans worlds', such as Enceladus and Europa, to looking for biosignatures in the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, NASA’s science missions are working together with a goal to find unmistakable signs of life beyond Earth".
Levin, however, was convinced that the test, which revealed four positive results for the presence of microbial respiration supported by five varied controls duplicated by both landers, proved that microorganisms were present in the planet’s soil.
While a further experiment failed to detect organic matter - suggesting that LR found just the imitation of life - Levin, who played a leading role in the experiment, criticised the space agency for not following up the test’s results in subsequent missions.
"Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results", Levin wrote in the article. "Instead the agency launched a series of missions to Mars to determine whether there was ever a habitat suitable for life and, if so, eventually to bring samples to Earth for biological examination".
In the meantime, the Curiosity rover, which has been on the Red Planet since August 2012, previously detected a sulfate salt in sedimentary rocks in the Gale Crater, a dry lake bed on the planet, suggesting that the crater once contained salty lakes which could have supported life.