by Richard C. Hoagland and
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 (far 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:
"... to study the
history of water and [the]
habitability potential in the
Martian arctic's ice-rich soil ...."
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 (below image) 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
potential 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
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 down-linked 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
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 insitu-water measurements left no doubt: there is a
vast amount of frozen water in the arctic latitudes on Mars ...
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":
"We’re flabbergasted by this data,”
said Sam Kounaves, the lead scientist for the wet
chemistry experiment on the Phoenix spacecraft, which landed May
25 on Mars. “We’ve found nutrients that could support life...."
This was then followed by my
(Hoagland's) favorite all-time "Martian" quote:
"...you might be able to grow
asparagus very well [on Mars],” Kounaves said.
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
reported in an August 1 story:
"The White House has been alerted by
NASA about plans to make an announcement soon on major new
Phoenix lander discoveries concerning the "potential for life"
on Mars, scientists tell Aviation Week & Space Technology.
"Sources say the new data do not
indicate the discovery of existing or past life on Mars. Rather
the data relate to habitability - the 'potential' for Mars to
support life - at the Phoenix arctic landing site, sources say.
"The data are much more complex than results related NASA's July
31 announcement that Phoenix has confirmed the presence of water
ice at the site ...."
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
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.
an MSNBC report, on the specifics
from the NASA "perchlorate" news briefing - by Science Editor,
"...Tufts University's Sam Kounaves,
a member of the MECA team, said he still thought asparagus would
grow well in soil from Mars, even with the perchlorate. 'At this
point, I still don't have any reason why it wouldn't,' he told
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... presaged 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:
"...the [recently confirmed]
discovery of liquid water on Mars, combined with earlier
discoveries of organic substances in a meteorite that came from
Mars, and also of methane in the Martian atmosphere, all point
to the existence of life - contemporary life - on the Red Planet..."
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 projected levels of living populations of Martian
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):
"...I was completely astounded to
see oscillations in the Labeled Release experiment with a period
of one Martian SOL [Martian day]" Miller said.
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
Miller's provisional identification of Martian day-length circadian
rhythms, emanating from possible Martian microorganisms living in
the soil samples that Levin was analyzing 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
"...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
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
Announcement"... 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 (below) regarding
Star Trek - taped just before the Phoenix spacecraft arrived at
Shatner Claims To Know About Life On
Said Shatner, in answer to a question "Do you believe in
"... I will let you in on a little
secret, that I have been told not to reveal... so I wont reveal
who told me. But, there is going to be new information about
Mars. It wont be too long away...."
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 successfully 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 ...)
What made all this really special was the fact that the same source
also said (and in this same phone call...) that both presidential
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 Committee 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
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 alleged "life on Mars" briefing,
both candidates began making extremely
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 resources instead
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 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
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
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
Augmented - this unique year - by Karl Rove's converging
So as to bring maximum political advantage, regarding this
extraordinary new Reality, to... John McCain.