John Grotzinger, head scientist for the NASA mission that will try to land a rover on Mars in August, acknowledges that the mission will not search directly for life there. Left unsaid is that several experiments that could search directly for life have fallen victim to shortsighted budget decisions. These include an experiment designed by Gilbert Levin that could validate the Viking landers' "labeled release" findings in 1976 that were consistent with the presence of microbial life in the Martian soil, and another designed by Christopher Carr that would look for and attempt to sequence Martian DNA.
Even more disappointing, plans to retrieve Martian rocks for study on Earth have been postponed indefinitely.
These experiments could not only solve Mars' most compelling mystery but also raise new questions about the very nature of life itself.
Stephen A. Silver