By Richard C. Hoagland
and Mike Bara
Just a few weeks ago (May 25th ...), NASA landed its latest unmanned spacecraft -- the Phoenix Mission -- on the surface of the planet Mars, this time near the Red Planet's North Pole (below).
The name "Phoenix" covers a host of metaphorical allusions familiar to this readership; the NASA Phoenix Mission (which now officially ends with the coming of Martian Winter in Mars' Northern Hemisphere, on September 30, 2008) has two official goals:
Note that this latest NASA mission was NOT (again!) specifically equipped "to search for life on Mars," but only conditions "favorable for life."
To that end, the Phoenix lander carries a complement of six scientific instruments -- ranging from two digital color cameras (one in stereo), to a robotic sampler arm (below) -- the latter designed for digging in the soil and conveying samples of that soil to two of those six instruments, the ones involving detailed chemical analysis ....
Unfortunately (by accident ... design?), these two instruments cannot directly sense the presence of such potental Martian life forms in that soil (with one potential caveat ...), but only the chemical prerequisites of such potential life ... and ... some of its calculated by-products -- should they currently exist.
The "caveat" is the presence of a high-powered microscope (one of two on-board, actually - see image, below) -- this one associated with the "wet chemistry" experiment (known as "MECA"); by use of this powerful optical microscope, if there were living bacterial or microbial life forms present in the sampled Martian soil, they could visually be seen ... especially ... if they moved between successive downlinked images!
(Displayed below are several small sand particles imaged by the microscope, after the initial soil collection for the MECA.)
Of the aforementioned "prerequisites" for Martian life forms ... the one that Phoenix is most interested in is water.
* * *
Thus, it was with some fanfare that NASA, on July 31, 2008, officially announced that Phoenix had finally, chemically, detected liquid water in its Martian arctic soils (as melted ice ...) -- making this, at least, the fifth time that "detection of water on Mars" has been officially announced by NASA!
This occasion, however, was quite different:
A Phoenix lander chemistry instrument (called "TEGA") physically "tasted" this crucial Martian water -- leaving no doubt as to its presence; previous NASA "water announcements" had been based on remote sensing -- from a variety of spacecraft photographs of Mars, taken from high orbit -- images which present a great diversity of visual circumstantial evidence for the former existence of "a great flood of running on water on the Planet Mars" ... but not "when" it might have been there.
The TEGA insituwater measurements left no doubt: there is a vast amount of frozen water in the arctic latitudes on Mars ... right NOW.
Thus, the first major "life question" that Phoenix so elegantly answered was confirmation of the existence of current water in the soil -- which, of course, could then be used by any current Martian microbes that might be living in that soil!
With reference to the "habitability" part of Phoenix' scientific mandate, NASA had made an earlier announcement (even before its confirmation of the water ...) on June 27, 2008, regarding the nature of the soil itself ... retrieved from one of its excavated trenches and analyzed by the on-board MECA instrument (the white flecks visible at the bottom of those trenches -- below -- are exposed layers of frozen Martian ice lying just beneath the surface soils.)
To quote the NASA scientist conducting this first, extremely provocative "Martian arctic soil habitability analysis":
This was then followed by my (Hoagland's) favorite all-time "Martian" quote:
However, one day following the release of the Phoenix water confirmation, on July 31st, rumors began to circulate "... NASA is holding something back." Craig Covault, Senior Editor of "AvWeek" (Aviation Week and Space Technology -- the "bible" of the aerospace industry) reported in an August 1 story:
A few days later, NASA held (according to some reporters) a "non-news ... news conference" -- announcing the detection of a curious additional chemical in both of its earlier soil analyses: something called "perchlorate"; the perchlorate molecule consists of four oxygen atoms surrounding a central chlorine atom. With its discovery, concern was expressed in some news stories that "perchlorates" (which can weakly oxidize organic materials) reduced the previously-announced soil's "habitability for life."
Not so, said Sam Kounaves.
According to an MSNBC report, on the specifics from the NASA "perchlorate" news briefing -- by Science Editor, Alan Boyle:
It was this "curious neutrality" of the announced new discovery -- not tipping the balance either way in the on-going quest for "life on Mars" (so ... why have a news conference -- which is supposed to be about "news?") -- which caused some reporters to suspect that there was, indeed, another story lurking in the wings ... pressaged by Covault's earlier reporting of a secret "White House NASA Mars briefing ..."
Another, hidden story -- which the hurriedly-called NASA "perchlorate news conference" was actually designed to deflect attention from ....
* * *
Then, ten days following this "perchlorate press conference," the Indo-Asian News Services abruptly published a remarkable interview with a world-class Indian astronomer and biologist -- "astrobiologist" Chandra Wickramasinghe -- who said, unambiguously:
Chandra Wickramasinghe, among other things, was the inspiration for a key character in Arthur C. Clarke's provocative sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey," "2010 - Odyssey Two."
In that same Indo-Asian News Service interview, Wickramasinghe then -- quite courageously -- also calmly asserted that NASA is deliberately withholding this explosive information "... for political and sociological considerations."
In other words ... because of "Brookings!"
He then went on to remind everyone that this is NOT a "recent story," but goes back to the seminal work of Dr. Gil Levin, head of the original Viking "Labeled Release Experiment" -- whose pioneering soil analysis on Mars in 1976 came back positive for life ... over thirty years ago!; yet, NASA has subsequently, consistently, insisted that Levin's results are NOT legitimate -- a conclusion based on the inability of another Viking instrument (the "GCMS") to find any "organics" (the "dead bodies" from current Martian life ...) in that same soil.
It has since been proven, however, via tests undertaken in similar dry soils in Antarctica -- demonstrably containing, fro other tests, abundant microorganisms -- that the Viking "organic detection experiment" was seriously flawed; it could NOT detect "the dead bodies" from some prohected levels of living populations of Martian microorganisms ("The Missing Organic Molecules On Mars" -- published in the PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, Vol. 97, p 2425, March 18, 2000) .... It even had difficulty detecting certain type of key organics from those organisms -- even if present in significant amounts -- within its tested Martian soils!
Yet, despite this conflicting scientific evidence (some of it obtained even before the launch of Viking ...), NASA has still taken every opportunity -- across more than 30 years -- to marginalize Levin's astonishing, positive "life detection" results from his successful experiment on Mars.
Results such as ....
In 2000, a circadian biologist and neuroscientist from Texas Tech University, Dr. Joseph Miller, digging through old Viking data, announced that there may be completely unappreciated circadian rhythms in Levin Viking biology results (below)--
Circadian rhythms are metabolic cycles indicative of living organisms, that (on Earth ...) take about 24 hours to complete from start to finish. Myriad "circadian rhythm experiments" in the 1950's and 1960's established that these biological cycles are remarkable resilient -- capable of being maintained across a range of external environmental factors, even in total darkness and in total isolation from all other outside influences ....
Miller's provisional identification of Martian day-length circadian rhythms, emmenating from possible Martian microorgansims living in the soil samples that Levin was anayzing within his Viking instrument ... on Mars ... was potentially historic ....
It was for all these reasons that one of us (Hoagland) announced before the Denver Libertarian Party National Nominating Convention, the evening Phoenix landed safely on the Red Planet (May 25th) that, "for political reasons" NASA would likely announce -- before the November, 2008 Elections -- that it had (finally!) "discovered life on Mars."
He repeated this daring prediction one day later ... on May 26, 2008 -- to George Noory and the national radio audience of "Coast to Coast AM."
Three months later, Chandra Wickramasinghe -- completely independently -- would also directly accuse NASA of sitting on such data "... essentially from as long ago as Viking ... from 30 years ago!"
Which would make it possible for NASA to "discover" Martian life now any time it was politically expedient to do so--
Possibly, as early as this coming Fall ...
* * *
What NASA seems to be waiting for ... before it makes its "Big Announcement" ... are the results of the second "life prerequisite" experiment: the independent Phoenix search, with 30 years more sensitive equipment (down to "10 parts per billion ..."), for those same, critical organic molecules that Viking failed to find three decades ago.
That crucial detection of "organics" -- the remains of once-living Martian microorganisms, now decomposing in the soils around the Phoenix lander -- would be the clincher ... and the trigger for the Big Announcement; as such, it could come literally any day ... if such a detection hasn't already been achieved and then quietly briefed to the Bush White House--
Exactly as Craig Covault's controversial AvWeek article suggested, weeks ago!
Picture that: the Bush White House ... waiting ... for "the Perfect Political Timing"--
To make its own "History-Changing Mars Announcment"--
In this iconic "Year of Change" ....
Significantly, in this same time-frame, several other "curious events" around this subject have also taken place--
The first was a remarkable public statement by William Shatner (Captain Kirk!), during an on-line video interview regarding Star Trek -- taped just before the Phoenix spacecraft arrived at Mars.
Said Shatner, in answer to a question "Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?"--
I mean, if you're going to leak the imminent announcement of "life on Mars" (!) ... who more perfect to leak to ... than "the Captain of the Enterprise ...?"
The second "curious development" was an equally remarkable phone call I received about a month after Phoenix had sucessfully begun carrying out its various experiments ... from one of my long-time " intel sources."
According to this source, the White House had just had a quiet meeting -- regarding "when" to announce "NASA confirmation of life in the Martian soil" from Phoenix. According to this source, the issue was NOT that NASA "had just discovered life from Phoenix"; what it was discussing with the White House was when would be the most "leveraged time" in this political season to announce such a discovery ... and "blame it" on the Phoenix Mission!
What was remarkable about this call was the fact that it literally came weeks before Craig Covault reported independently on a similar "mysterious White House Mars Briefing ..." -- in his controversial (and later, much denied by NASA ...) AvWeek report!
What made all this really special was the fact that the same source also said (and in this same phone call ...) that both presidential campaigns -- McCain's and Obama's -- had just had similar briefings (part of the normal "national security" procedures for every about-to-be-elected president). And that McCain (because of his 26 years of Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committtee experience ...) already knew most of what the briefing told him. The problem (so I was, again, "informed" ...) was with Obama:
He didn't know whether to believe the briefing!
Obama's major concern (according to this phone call) -- given the mind-blowing, "history-changing" nature of the information (for most Americans ...) -- was that he was being "gamed" by the Bush White House ... in a (literal) "mind-blowing attempt to set him up" ... for some kind of "credibility problem" in the campaign later on!
However, within weeks of this alledged "life on Mars" briefing, both candidates began making extemely supportive, public statements regarding NASA and its proposed "Constellation Program" to go back to the Moon; in Obama's case, this was a definite, startling, 180-degree shift in policy from his previous well-known position (that he would delay current NASA plans to return to the Moon, and devote the resourcs instead to "education").
Obama was now suddenly proposing an additional $2 billion in annual funding for NASA, and ... just as suddenly ... also publicly supporting a manned mission to Mars, after "returning to the Moon!"
Clearly, "something" pretty dramatic must have happened ....
It would be nice to claim that we were, in fact, a bit responsible for this "sea change"; that the White Paper (below) we had specifically written this Spring to inform all the candidates re the "National Treasure" that is NASA -- that the Space Agency could represent once again ... if properly managed and utilized by a new, visionary president -- had gotten through ....
We do know for a fact that the Enterprise White Paper was delivered to all the candidates this Spring -- with copies personally handed to Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton by a "most trusted source." Other copies were delivered to both Obama and McCain, by other "personal messengers" ....
But the reality is, that an official campaign briefing by the White House -- on the imminent announcement of "other living creatures in the solar system ..." -- was probably a tad more persuasive to their thinking ....
* * *
All this "cloak and dagger" stuff will, of course, be quite familiar to readers of Dark Mission -- which lays out virtually the same case for NASA deliberately hiding "all the good stuff" -- not just microbial life on Mars, but artificial ruins ... and, all across the solar system! -- in its heavily footnoted 550 pages.
The only significant area of disagreement between our premise, regarding wide-spread deceit by NASA -- and, Dr. Wickramasinghe’s separate and courageous indictment of NASA's deliberate withholding of the most amazing evidence of current "life on Mars" -- is that the good doctor still clings to the “honest but stupid” model of NASA’s (otherwise, to him) "inexplicable behavior."
While, we know that NASA is operating -- as it has been for fifty years -- on a carefully calculated, “timed release aspirin,” national security model -- dictated (in part) by the paranoid excuses framed by "the Brookings Report."
Augmented -- this unique year -- by Karl Rove's converging campaign calculations ....
So as to bring maximum political advantage, regarding this extraordinary new Reality, to ... John McCain.