Astrobiology: September 2012 Archives

Bob Wharton

President of South Dakota School of Mines dies, PRapid City Journal

"Wharton served as executive officer for the National Science Foundation's office of polar programs, participating in 11 expeditions to the Antarctic. He also was a visiting senior scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C."

Keith's note: I am profoundly saddened to hear of Bob's passing. I got to know Bob very well when he and I worked at the old Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in the 1980s. Bob was an astrobiologist before the word had even been coined. He was an adventurer and a jack of all trades. Among other things, he spent a lot of time diving under Antarctic ice with Chris McKay and Dale Andersen and roaming the Antarctic dry valleys. He was also an avid climber and mountaineer. Bob and I went rock climbing several times. One trip in particular, to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, on a day not unlike today, is etched into my mind. I can clearly recall asking him on that trip if he thought there was life on Mars. He paused for a moment and said "I ... think so". I can only hope that somewhere on Curiosity's travels across Gale crater on Mars, that something of prominence is named after Bob Wharton.

If the Mars rover finds water, it could be H2 ... uh oh!, LA Times

"On Nov. 1, after learning that the drill bit box had been opened, Conley said she had the mission reclassified to one in which Curiosity could touch the surface of Mars "as long as there is no ice or water." Conley's predecessor at NASA, John D. Rummel, a professor of biology at East Carolina University, said, partly in jest: "It will be a sad day for NASA if they do detect ice or water. That's because the Curiosity project will most likely be told, 'Gee, that's nice. Now turn around.' " If water is found, Curiosity could still conduct tests from a distance with instruments including a laser and spectrometers."

Mars Rover May Be Contaminated with Earth Microbes, NPR

"... what we would do is we would take a step back, and we would convene a panel of scientific experts to review the whole procedure, look at the amount of ultraviolet light that might've been hitting the drill bit that would be burning, you know, giving all those organisms sunburn. There are a small number of organisms on the rover, many, many fewer than there are on the palm of your hand. But there are a few. So we would convene this panel of experts. We'd look at the conditions at Gale Crater. We'd consider what the characteristics of this potential water or ice might be, and then that panel would decide how we should proceed with the potential to study that."


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