Saturday, August 2, 2008

White House Briefed By Nasa About Possible Life on Mars

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.

International news media trumpeted the water ice confirmation, which was not a surprise to any of the Phoenix researchers. "They have discovered water on Mars for the third or fourth time," one senior Mars scientists joked about the hubbub around the water ice announcement.

The other data not discussed openly yet are far more "provocative," Phoenix officials say.

In fact, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory science team for the MECA wet-chemistry instrument that made the findings was kept out of a July 31 news conference at the University of Arizona Phoenix control center. The goal was to prevent them from being asked any questions that could reveal information before NASA is ready to make an announcement, sources say.

The Bush Administration's Presidential Science Advisor's office, however, has been briefed on the new information that NASA hopes to release as early as mid August. It is possible an announcement would not come until September, to allow for additional analysis. That will depend upon the latest results still being analyzed from the spacecraft's organic oven and soil chemistry laboratories.

Phoenix scientists have said from the start that neither the TEGA organic chemistry lab nor the MECA wet chemistry system could detect current or past life.

MECA's two microscopes do, however, have the resolution to detect bacteria--which would be life. Sources, however, say the microscopes have not detected bacteria.

The Phoenix scoop was successful in delivery of a soil/ice mixture to TEGA this week after the material stuck in the scoop on two tries. The analysis of that sample is under way. The sample contains about 1% ice and 99% soil.

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