U.S. Government officially acknowledges existence of Area 51 for first time


National security scholars at George Washington University have some good news and bad news for UFO buffs - the U.S. government has finally confirmed the existence of Area 51 in Nevada, but it makes no mention of little green men or alien spaceships.

CIA acknowledges its mysterious Area 51 test site for first time
By Steve Gorman
Fri Aug 16, 2013 9:40pm EDT
(Reuters) - National security scholars at George Washington University have some good news and bad news for UFO buffs - the U.S. government has finally confirmed the existence of Area 51 in Nevada, but it makes no mention of little green men or alien spaceships.

The government acknowledged the existence of the mysterious aviation test site known as Area 51, a remote installation about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, in a newly declassified CIA history of its U-2 spy plane program.

After decades of extreme secrecy surrounding the site, stoking conspiracy theories about UFOs and experiments on alien spacecraft, the CIA lifted its veil on Area 51 in response to a public records request from George Washington University scholars in Washington, D.C.

Publicly released online on Thursday by the university's National Security Archive, the 400-page CIA history contains the first deliberate official references to Area 51, also known as Groom Lake, as a site developed by the intelligence agency in the 1950s to test fly the high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance plane.

Other top-secret aircraft were tested there later, including the supersonic reconnaissance A-12 aircraft, code-named OXCART, and the F-117 stealth ground-attack jet, said archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson, who asked for the CIA's U-2 history in 2005.

A newly revised document restoring numerous references to Area 51 that had been redacted in earlier versions was furnished by the CIA a few weeks ago, he said.

"It's the first time that there must have been a senior-level decision to acknowledge the term 'Area 51' and its specific location" he told Reuters on Friday.

Chapter 2 of the CIA history recounts how Richard Bissell, the CIA officer then overseeing development of the U-2 plane by Lockheed, first spotted the site on an aerial scouting mission over Nevada in April 1955, accompanied by an Air Force officer and two others.

The four men landed their plane near an old, abandoned air strip at the edge of a salt flat known as Groom Lake near the northeastern corner of the Nevada Test Site, the nuclear proving ground then controlled by the Atomic Energy Commission.


The group agreed that Groom Lake would "make an ideal site for testing the U-2 and training its pilots" Bissell subsequently asked the Atomic Energy Commission to add the area to its Nevada real estate holdings, the account says.

"AEC Chairman Admiral Lewis Strauss readily agreed, and President Eisenhower also approved the addition of this strip of wasteland, known by its map designation as Area 51, to the Nevada Test Site" the document says.

To make the barren new facility seem more appealing to its workers, managers of the U-2 program dubbed the facility "Paradise Ranch" which was later shortened to "the Ranch"

Photos of the site and a newly declassified map outlining and labeling the location were also included in the document.

Richelson said he could recall at least two previous government documents in which an incidental reference to Area 51 appeared, but he assumed those were inadvertent because they were devoid of any other details or context.

The multiple detailed references to Area 51 in the latest CIA account - the document's index lists at least 12 mentions - show that they were deliberate, he said.

The intelligence agency had little to say about the disclosure.

"What readers of the CIA study will find is that CIA tests its U-2 and A-12 reconnaissance aircraft at the site in Nevada sometimes referred to as 'Area 51,'" CIA spokesman Edward Price said. "What readers won't find are any references to aliens or other conspiracy theories best left to the realm of science fiction"

Among the more sensational pieces of UFO conspiracy lore linked to Area 51 is that the remains of a flying saucer that supposedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, were brought to the site for reverse engineering experiments that attempted to replicate the extraterrestrial spacecraft.

Richelson said the CIA document makes no mention of any such theories. But he pointed to one passage that discusses the relationship between U-2s and unidentified flying objects "in the sense that people sighted U-2s in a time that they were very secretive and at very high altitude and didn't know what they were, and in that sense they were UFOs"

The Woodward Effect allows starships to travel across universe

Esther Inglis-Arkell

One of the major problems with traveling through space is the need to carry fuel. Scientists have endlessly sought after sources of perpetual, portable fuel for spacecraft. But maybe that was the wrong approach?
The Woodward Effect indicates that we might do better manipulating the mass of the fuel that we have.
Space travel has always presented the same problem — the universe is big and mostly empty. This can make it extremely hard to provision any starship that needs to travel freely. Although technically, a spaceship can get up to speed and then jet through space on inertia alone, any change of speed or direction is going to require more fuel. If we really want to move in any direction, at will, around space, we're going to need a source of propulsion that can be accessed anywhere, without needing an outside source of matter or energy.
This is a major departure from anything we've so far used to navigate. One theoretical solution is the creation and annihilation of matter and antimatter — but antimatter-matter pairs take as much energy to create as they release when they annihilate. Solar wind, the flow of charged particles off the surface of stars and out into the universe, can be used to push a star ship, but it doesn't allow for optimal navigational freedom. There's even speculation of using giant sails to capture the momentum of spontaneously created of particles in the void. That would require large sails for a small ship.
And then we have the Woodward Effect, which proposes that we can, essentially cycle a group of particles through a loop again and again, and they will change mass. We can pull on them when they're at a light point in their mass, and push them away when they're heavy. It will be like grabbing a balloon and pulling it towards you, only to have it change into a bowling ball as it reaches its nearest point and you push it away again. You'll feel an overall push outwards.
How does this happen? According to some, it doesn't. It's based on Mach's Principle, and in fact James F Woodward himself prefers to call his idea the Mach Effect. Mach's Principle is complicated, but the best and most famous explanation for it has to do with twirling around on a lovely summer evening. Go out and look at the starry night sky. If you look up, the stars will appear to be standing still (unless you're out for hours at a time). Looking down, you will notice that your arms are dangling at your sides, as if no force is acting on them except the Earth's gravity. Now spin while keeping your arms relaxed. You'll feel your arms lifting up and moving out as if you were going to break into a chorus of The Sound of Music. Keep twirling and look up. The stars are spinning around you. Ernst Mach, a physicist, postulated that this was not happenstance. He believed that, at some level, your arms and the stars are interacting, exerting force on each other and moving in relation to each other. The arm-star objects are a physical system.

The Woodward Effect allows for endless supplies of starship fuel 

Obviously, Mach didn't believe that the stars were the only things causing your arms to move, but he did theorize that these interactions were possible. Now we skip from Mach to Einstein. Einstein explained that not only does time vary with relative speed, mass does as well. If, then, you have an object moving in a system that can include the farthest stars and the closest objects, the mass of the object will literally vary as it moves around. Snag it while it's light, and push it while it's heavy, and you can reap a push for yourself in one direction, but within an overall system in which no mass or energy is created or destroyed. A space ship could be equipped with however much mass it needs to move, spend its voyage flinging that mass around its internal systems while employing the Woodward Effect, and come back home with exactly the same amount of fuel it had in the beginning.
How likely is this? That depends on whether Mach's Principle actually works, practically speaking. Many scientists dismiss the very idea — and Einstein was one of them. Others are considering the utility of the idea, and looking into the practical benefits that we could get from it if it's true. The Woodward Effect has been tested multiple times. While some tests indicate it might be even greater than Woodward himself estimated, other tests are muddy and inconclusive. Still, its another potential avenue to the stars. We always like that.


In the recent decades that have documented the classic struggle of defending US air space and gauging the UFO threat, a complex set of issues emerge. Even the first generations of US astronauts were seasoned fighter pilots who had served at military bases and had even been scrambled in pursuit of their enigmatic aerial opponents. In that daunting task of intercepting the unknown we have the mentality of our men at the controls of their formidable aircraft to consider when encountering a phenomenon that officially does not exist, but has to be confronted when the orders come in, and a violation of guarded air space is detected.
When Captain Thomas Mantell came up against a glowing metallic object huge in proportions as described by himself to Godman Tower air traffic controllers, little did anyone know it would be his last transmission.  Was it target fixation, a well-known state of mind known to combat pilots in pursuit of their aerial foes during “dogfights” that caused the veteran fighter pilot to push his F-51 Mustang beyond its envelope as he supposedly suffered anoxia when he exceeded his unpressurized limit of 20 thousand feet? Many would argue that it was much more than that which caused the first loss of an American pilot in pursuit of a UFO, but Mantell’s fatal chase demonstrates the mentality of a trained combat pilot to the point of no return.
Incident at Groom Lake
When Gordon Cooper, a decorated Colonel, and one of the first Mercury program astronauts at NASA experienced his first brush with the unknown in the skies of world it was while stationed in Germany in the mid-1950’s. Scrambled along with his squadron to intercept unidentified high flying objects Cooper described bogeys that quickly outclassed the F-86 Fighters that his unit flew in order to identify who or what had violated United Nations defended air space over West Germany. His early experiences would only be a harbinger of things to come as he would come to find out years later while on assignment at Area 51.
Gordon Cooper later detailed an encounter with an unconventional craft that landed near his ground unit command. Tasked with photography and surveillance, he and his men were surprised when the landing occurred. He reported that men ran toward the unknown object but it lifted off while spraying some type of aerosol substance upon them as they approached. The footage that Cooper’s men were able to capture of this bizarre event was immediately expedited to HQ in Washington DC under orders he was given. As has been the case with many such instances, Cooper’s inquiries into the disposition of the photos and investigation by the Air Force went unanswered.
The X-15 project
Test pilot extraordinaire, Joe Walker, who had flown the X-15 manned rocket plane reported the presence of unknown airborne objects pacing his high performance aircraft as he flew at the very fringe of the upper atmosphere and space. Despite the calculated discouragement by higher command to publicly announce such an encounter, Walker did anyway. Brigadier General, Chuck Yeager, who first broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947, characterized test pilot, Joe Walker, as arrogant and unwilling to accept advice from others. Walker was killed while flight testing the Valkyrie XB-70.
When aggressiveness does not pay
Chuck Yeager also commented on Captain Ira Bong, leading Fighter Ace of US World War II fighter pilots with 40 kills. In his self-assuredness, Captain Bong died while standing upright in the cockpit of his F-80 draped in his parachute when his aircraft crashed while leaving the runway. Yeager, who emphasized thoroughly reading the operating manual of any plane he was to fly, noted that Captain Bong had switched off the oil pump while in-flight. The manual specifically stated not to do so. Once again Chuck Yeager characterized the mentality of many fighter jocks in the way they tackled their job, sometimes leading to their tragic demise. It seems that these types of aviators are risk takers willing to sacrifice themselves and the hardware they fly.
Ominous rewards of piloting skills
In his book “Majestic” Whitley Strieber quoted the general opinion within the ranks of the armed services during the 1940’s and 50’s as brave pilots pursued UFO’s and what their fate might end up being. Only a very skilled and determined pilot could ever maintain pursuit of a flying saucer, and if he did, it often led to his disappearance or crash. So, it would seem that the aggressive mentality of the well trained fighter pilot often resulted in unfortunate consequences for the aviator himself, his aircraft, and the authorities trying to ascertain just who or what he has been chasing. It would seem in the final analysis, that target fixation played a large part in the disappearance and crashes of many brave interceptor pilots tasked the defense of US air space.
SAC Command weighs in
One need only refer to the statement of General Benjamin Chidlaw of Strategic Air Command, who admitted that out of some 3000 attempted intercepts of UFO’s over the continental United States many men and aircraft had been lost. This admission was made in 1965. One can only imagine what has transpired since then, and how shocking those incidents might be. Yet, in the face of these types of disconcerting realities, the constant denial of the federal government and US military leadership has falsely misled the American public into an illusion of relative security.

Is Bigfoot getting ready for his close up? New photographs of the elusive species!

Bigfoot?: The Sasquatch photograph taken on a camera phone


“The truth, always the truth–at all costs”
 I will strive to give you perspectives on the news that you will rarely receive from other sources. At times, there will be eye-witness reports from troubled areas, at other times, there will be documentary,interviews and other interesting works. 

I am committed to providing information by posting/archiving videos, articles, and links. I also investigate to raise awareness on numerous issues, inspire critical thinking, involvement, and hopefully to help make our world a better place for all.
According to a recently published report, the report states Randy O’Neal, 40, reckons his dad’s photo – taken on a phone at the weekend – backs up his claim he saw the beast on a camping trip 25 years ago.
A hunched figure sits on the water’s edge in another alleged sighting of the fabled Bigfoot.
Randy O’Neal, 40, reckons his dad’s photo – taken on a phone at the weekend – backs up his claim he saw the beast 25 years ago.
Sceptics said it was another hoax, but Randy challenged them to prove him wrong.
He said: “My memories and experiences have made me a believer.
“Here are the pictures again… I can honestly say that these are the clearest, most ‘non-blurred’ images I personally have ever seen.”

 Click to zoom

Man's best friend

Human Colonies in Space

Click to zoom

Royal Air Force Fighter Jet Arrives to Investigate UFO ~ June 2014


Date of sighting: June 22, 2014
Location of sighting: Bushey Hertfordshire, England
Eyewitness states:
I don't know what these objects are. I am just reporting what I am seeing. Today we saw 5 objects. They were black and round and slightly flat, they seemed to be rotating. Sometimes they were stationary and other times they would move. Just watch the video...If any one has any information about these objects then please do get in touch with me.

 Click video to zoom

NASA having trouble explaining how their Mars Rover took selfie without its robotic arm seen in the photo ~ Greg Giles

rover selfie 
 Self taken image of the Mars (ahem) Rover, but who's holding the camera?   

Now NASA, I am somewhat convinced, has some pretty clever minds punching in and out each weekday, well at least 3 or 4 days a week, and hand picked to explain this puzzler to the tax payers who are footing the bill for these expeditions all the way to Mars is Michael Ravine, advanced projects manager at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego who is part of the Mars Rover team, and whose apparent weakness is rock, paper, scissors.

Michael Ravine, (Give him credit for not trembling - or giggling) attempts to tell us what our eyes are really seeing. (Why is it that NASA, far more than any other entity on our entire planet, always has to take time out of their busy schedule to explain to us dummies that we are not seeing what we think we are seeing?) "We stuck the arm out in front of the rover and used the arm to shoot enough images to cover the entire rover and all the terrain around it."

So what you're saying Mikey is that the selfie isn't a single snapshot, but a few pics 'scotch-taped' together, a Mars mosaic, if you will, to be proudly held by cute little 'asteroid' magnets to the NASA scientist's break room fridge. Okay, but... that doesn't answer the question, does it? We'll ask again: Who's holding the camera Mike- in any of the snapshots? ( Just for us dummies)

Ravine fired back with the always reliable 'answer a question with a question' tactic. Obviously Mike is not a failure at all high school curriculum.  

Ravine: "Question- Why isn't Bill Clinton's arm in this picture?"
 Ravine: "Answer: He bent it at the elbow away from the camera, so it's outside the camera's field of view. The explanation for the self-portraits we've shot of Curiosity is the same. For the sequence that took the self-portrait mosaics, the arm is mostly crooked at its "elbow." If you were standing next to the rover when these images were taken, it would have looked something like this simulation."

And Ravine was not yet done, as he left us with one last flash of cosmic genius. "It is easier to keep the robotic arm out of MAHLI's field of view than with a typical cell phone camera because MAHLI has a narrower field of view than a typical mobile phone."

And there you have it folks.We have all learned a valuable lesson from 'Professor' Ravine today. You didn't need to ace creative writing in high school to find employment in the space program, and you don't have to be any good at rock, paper, scissors either.  
Greg Giles

Tiny Animal Caught On Rover Photo ~ June 29, 2014

Before & after images
  Date of discovery: June 29, 2014
Location of discovery: Mars
Sol 673, Curiosity Rover
Links to the original NASA/JPL images



Skimming over the NASA Curiosity photos I came across two photos. 1st with a black long object crawling across the sand, the 2nd the object is gone. Photos were taken on 6-28, 2014...yesterday. Its a very unusual photos and I made an enlargement of you to see. If this was pixilation, it would be a perfect right angle on both ends...however one end is shaded unusually and looks to be the end of a tiny creature. Now theres cameras on this rover cost millions of US dollars and NASA would not buy anything but the best. So we know its not a glitch. Very unusual and odd. SCW

Below photo...the object is gone. 

Mystery of the Mounds Lives On! Not created by animals after all?

The Mima Mounds


The mystery of the mounds lives on. A mere six months after researchers said computer modeling proved pocket gophers, over the course of several hundred years of scurrying and burrowing, formed the bizarre-patterned earthen "Mima mounds" in Washington state, a new team of researchers claims that plants are in fact the likely source.

These mounds—which are up to 6.5 feet tall and 55 feet wide—are found on every continent but Antarctica, and in his study, Michael Cramer of the University of Cape Town sets out to debunk the gopher theory.

He outlines a number of issues: Mima mounds appear in areas gophers don't inhabit; some of the mounds feature rocks bigger than the 2-inches-in-diameter stones pocket gophers are believed to be able to move.

Mysterious mounds: not created by animals after all?
Bryan Moss and Tracey Byrne from the Seattle area stop along the walking path in the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve Dec. 29, 2013, near Littlerock, Wash.AP Photo/The Olympian, Steve Bloom 

And as for the previous claim that a series of gophers developed the mounds over hundreds of years, Cramer says there's no indication that abandoned mounds are repopulated over and over.
His theory: The mounds have formed due to what is called vegetation spatial patterning. The idea, reports LiveScience, is that plants and their roots alter how wind or water may carry soil to these patches of vegetation, thus the mounds grow bigger over time as the plants continue to trap sediment.
The vegetation could further stabilize the soil, thereby reducing erosion on the mounds while depleting the adjacent soil of water and nutrients, creating patterned dips. The researchers hope to test their theory on mounds in South Africa.
Whatever the source, the News Tribune reports that Washington state is pushing to protect its mysterious mounds: Its Department of Fish and Wildlife recently requested $3 million from the state to do so.

Noah's Search: Probing Satellite Imagery for Lost Ark

Mound on Mount Ararat that may be Noah's Ark


Moviegoers were recently treated to "Noah," an epic story of bravery and sacrifice from the Old Testament, a saga in which the titular character takes on the divine mission to build an ark to save creation from an apocalyptic deluge.
Outside the big screen, speculation has swirled for decades that the leftovers of Noah's Ark hug the heights of Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey — at a spot known as the Ararat anomaly. In true detective jargon, call it an "anomaly of interest."
Satellite imagery and analysis may make it possible to resolve the mystery. [Satellite Quiz: How Well Do You Know What's Orbiting Earth?]
Credible rumors
Porcher Taylor, a professor of paralegal studies in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Richmond, has led the search into the Mt. Ararat anomaly. Taylor's quest began long ago, he said.

"The cognitive genesis of my journey began in 1973, some 41 years ago, in my junior year as a cadet at West Point," he told Space.com. Back then, Taylor came across "credible rumors" ricocheting off the walls of the academy that a CIA spy satellite had accidentally imaged "what appeared to be the bow of a ship sticking up out of the ice cap on Mt. Ararat," Taylor said.
A couple of decades later, Taylor launched his own satellite declassification initiative investigating the Mt. Ararat anomaly imagery.
Drawing on his  21 years of arm-chair sleuthing, Taylor has given unclassified presentations at the Pentagon and the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center.
Along the way, he declared victory in convincing the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1995 to declassify five 1949 U.S. Air Force aerial photos of Mt. Ararat. Additionally, thanks to Taylor's invitations, a number of experts over the years have "performed analyses of the satellite imagery, which thankfully tempered my zeal as an amateur," Taylor said.
Biblical proportions
So in this day and age, why continue the journey? The wealth of information provided by DigitalGlobe's satellite imagery keeps Taylor going, he said.

"My ultimate goal has always been that my acquisition over the years of progressively higher- and higher-resolution satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe of the anomaly might definitively change the anomaly into a known entity, either something geological or perhaps something of Biblical proportions," Taylor said.
DigitalGlobe's new and powerful WorldView-3 spacecraft is slated for launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base in summer 2014. Among its customer-provided attributes, the satellite will yielD 12 inches panchromatic resolution, making it the highest-resolution commercial satellite in the world.
"DigitalGlobe's constellation of satellites would be the envy of Indiana Jones," Taylor told Space.com. "I'm grateful and humbled that Digital Globe has flown numerous gratis missions for me over Mt. Ararat over the past decade, especially the QuickBird satellite mission of February 2003 that captured the boat-like form of the anomaly at 15,000 feet, without excessive amounts of snow and ice cover."
Similar technology has already secured valuable scientific data for other purposes. Satellite imagery has proven to be a valuable tool for providing accurate information about the changing planet, said Kumar Navulur, senior director at DigitalGlobe's Product Development & Labs in Longmont, Colorado.

"State-of-the-art remote-sensing technology and analytics are now so advanced, we can not only view detailed information about man-made features, but also monitor the wonders of some of Mother Nature's hidden treasures," Navulur told Space.com. "For example, we have mapped polar bear patterns in the Arctic and penguin populations in the Antarctic," he said.
Navulur said that satellite imagery provides such a precise view from space "that we are able to proactively observe environmental changes which unravel human footprints from thousands of years ago, such as the Ararat anomaly, and contribute to space archeology in a real and meaningful manner."
Taylor hopes that a future DigitalGlobe satellite image might catalyze a scientific organization like National Geographic to launch an expedition to explore up under the ice cap on Mt. Ararat's Western Plateau at the 15,000-foot level.
The "game-changing" WorldView-3 satellite, Taylor said, "might just accomplish that goal, as that will be the world's first commercial satellite to have that skill set … a quantum leap in satellite technology!"
Dogged determination
Additional analytical techniques have aided Taylor in his mission. He recently made use of a panchromatic texture uniqueness analysis of the anomaly, provided by remote sensing researcher and Ph.D. candidate Francois Luus from the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and Luus' research supervisor, Sunil Maharaj.

Imagery used in the work was gleaned by the QuickBird satellite mission at 61 centimeters resolution in 2003... 
Luus told Space.com that Taylor displays the tenacity and dogged determination characteristic of a successful investigator.
"His ability to rally support and repeatedly obtain specially commandeered satellite imagery of the Ararat anomaly is inspiring," Luus said.
Solving the riddle
Luus' texture analysis completed will help Taylor and others determine the anomaly's identity, Luus said.

"The texture uniqueness analysis we performed provides a more objective artificial intelligence perspective that shows us the parts of the anomaly that have novel textures and warrant further investigation," Luus said. "As a remote-sensing researcher, every pixel is given its due consideration, and good imagery is invaluable," he said.
Further study may consider the locations pinpointed by the uniqueness search to find clues about an artifact underlying the anomaly, Luus said.
"We are very excited about the new DigitalGlobe WorldView-3 satellite, which can truly shed some new light on the anomaly with its very high panchromatic and multispectral resolutions," Luus said. "Imagery of this quality may finally solve the riddle of the Ararat anomaly, or at least become the subject of a very satisfying remote sensing analysis," he said.

Why the Path to Aliens, Ironically, Depends on Earth

by Neal Ungerleider

Humanity is closer to discovering extraterrestrial life than we ever expected — or, at least, life that shares a different origin than anything we know on Earth.
Astrobiology isn't about chasing flying saucers, necessarily. Certainly, scientists search for origins of life on other planets, but astrobiology also uncovers new forms of Earth life we've never imagined before. The scientific tools to do so are advancing faster than ever, and as outer space travel increasingly becomes the domain of SpaceX and other private companies, NASA and foreign space agencies are focusing more resources on inner astrobiology.
Specifically, the study of and uses for alien-like life on Earth.
In 2010, geobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon's team found a strange form of "arsenic life" in California's Mono Lake. Unlike all other earthly life, it subsisted on the poisonous element arsenic instead of phosphorous. It was alien.
The science community raised serious questions about her team’s paper, encircling her and fellow authors in controversy. However, it was an unprecedented finding. Even if Wolfe-Simon and her group were wrong, their research helped pioneer a process to suss out microbial life not of this earth — on Earth.
Mono Lake
California's Mono Lake is roughly 760,000 years old and contains high salt that harbors extremophiles, or alien-like organisms that thrive in environments that would eviscerate most other Earthly life.
Image: Flickr, Dhilung Kirat
A year later, Richard Hoover, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center who helped found NASA’s astrobiology program, made a startling claim: Some Martian meteorites showed proof of extraterrestrial life. According to Hoover, an asteroid uncovered by scientists in Antarctica in 1996 contained “microfossils,” tiny, microscopic gaps and fibers that indicated the presence of microbial life on Mars. This was the third time since 1997 Hoover asserted he'd found proof of extraterrestrial life in meteorites.
Soon, however, NASA officially distanced itself from Hoover’s claim after major issues arose with the peer review process. Hoover retired shortly after and is currently a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham in Great Britain.
Neither Hoover nor Wolfe-Simon managed to convince the larger scientific community that they had proof of extraterrestrial life. But both came closer than anyone before.
Astrobiology research, conducted mostly under the aegis of NASA and a few other space agencies, is attempting to answer the big, existential questions of humanity — where we came from, how life came about, the origins of the solar system and whether there's anything else in space lifelike at all. In an age when the vanguard of space travel is transitioning from governments to private corporations like SpaceX, NASA is redefining itself as a cutting-edge research institution.
Bonus: Discovering alien microbial life would be the holy grail of all funding goals.
In the meantime, though, what are we finding? And are astrobiology discoveries helping humans?
Turns out, the study of alien life and life’s origins has huge industrial applications here on Earth.
Astrobiology research is helping everything from recycling to oil prospecting.
Astrobiology research is helping everything from recycling to oil prospecting. And astrobiologists are using these applications to justify their continued search for extraterrestrial life. If researchers keep serving everyday industrial needs in sectors like health care, for example, it helps to secure funding from skeptical government bureaucrats and create revenue streams for these scientists to conduct their unusual research in the first place. The alien catch-22. The search for E.T. depends just as much on heavy industry or big health care as it does on NASA.

Life (and patents) on Mars

European Space Agency ExoMars program
By 2020, the European Union and Russia — if God, the European budget crisis and international geopolitics cooperate — are expected to launch a Martian rover called ExoMars. It will complement the American Mars Curiosity Rover and its successor in surveying the Red Planet’s surface. When ExoMars begins its slow path across Martian soil, it will search for evidence of past microbial life.
Some of the ExoMars equipment comes from a device called the Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA), a system built to find amino acids that could indicate the presence of life. Created by Alison Skelley and Richard Mathies of the University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MOA searches for amino acids that spiral to the left instead of the right, like most other amino acids. Many scientists, Mathies and Skelley included, feel this “right-handedness” is a hallmark of organic life.
While the device was being tested in the dry, Mars-like deserts of Chile, Mathies says, "This instrument is a thousand times better at detecting biomarkers than any instrument put on Mars before.”
But a machine originally meant to detect alien life on another planet soon found different uses.
The MOA helped Mathies develop something completely terrestrial, even ordinary: A way to predict (and thus, avoid) the headaches and flushed skin associated with red wine.
The same biochips MOA used to analyze organic material could detect amines that contribute to red wine headaches. Mathies eventually spun the technology into a suitcase-sized prototype, which could determine in a number of seconds whether a particular variety of wine contained certain amines.
Mathies’ discovery is just one of several industrial advances made by astrobiologists, after studying outer space and extremophiles (that is, “strange” life that lives in underwater thermal vents, the far Arctic or other inhospitable environments). Other applications: bacteria used to manufacture super-strong plastics, polymers used to clean oil spills and detection mechanisms for counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
Lake Vostok
Scientists drilled into Lake Vostok, Antractica, a frozen lake covered by nearly 4,000 meters of ice. Once they reached the lake, they collected samples of some of Earth's strangest life, which can be used to help create biodegradable plastic-like materials.
Image: North Carolina State University
Take the extremophiles in Antarctica’s Lake Vostok. The mysterious body of water is covered by approximately 13,000 feet of ancient glacial ice. Before scientists completed drilling core samples in 2012, Vostok was undisturbed by the surface world for at least 15 million years. They soon discovered, however, Vostok is home to some very unusual small organisms that thrive in salt-rich environments.
Researchers Ram Karan and Dahe Zhao found that these creatures — called halophiles — could help produce biofuel, chemical waste treatment or even biodegradable, plastic-like materials. This strange new organism, which humanity only unearthed within the past few years, turned out to have multiple applications.
Similarly, enzymes found in the alien ecosystems of searingly hot Yellowstone National Park geysers can treat wastes from chemical bleaching processes and are unusually useful at degrading hydrogen peroxide. They thrive in the high-temperature, pH-rich chemical stew of industrial bleaching solutions.
Scientists study strange forms of microscopic life found in Antarctica, in hot springs in Yellowstone Park and in the Chilean desert to get an idea of what extraterrestrial microbes could be like.
Image: Nicole Ragger Fuller, National Science Foundation
According to Lynne Rothschild, an astrobiologist and synthetic biologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the study of extremophiles has surprising commercial potential. In 2012, she told an audience at Stanford University that research into extremophiles could lead to important scientific discoveries in deflecting ultraviolet radiation (thanks to strange bacteria that live in radiation-rich environments), protecting ancient historic sites like the Lascaux Cave paintings in France from bacteria, and developing new antifreeze proteins for “everything from blood preservation to ice cream preservation.”
When scientists search Earth like they would search for extraterrestrial life, the industrial (and monetization) potential is vast.

Answering the big questions

Paul Davies
Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and author.
Image: Flickr, Christopher Michel
Paul Davies, an English-born physicist and cosmologist, is one of Arizona State’s best known scientific figures. The author of a successful line of pop science books with names like How to Build a Time Machine and Are We Alone?, Davies heads up the University’s Beyond Center. Beyond focuses on answering big questions traditionally addressed by philosophy — “Why are we here?” and “Where did we come from?” — using the tools of scientific inquiry.
Davies explained his theory that the origin of life will be discovered through information theory rather than chemistry. In layperson’s terms, that means Davies and his colleague Sara Imari Walker believe that humanity will best understand life’s origins on Earth through analytical approaches typically used in computer science and mathematics — not, like most scientists believe, through chemistry or biology.
(Walker’s lab at Arizona State is deeply involved in this hypothesis. Her published papers would sound familiar to any tech geek: “The Algorithmic Origins of Life,” for example.)
It is an unorthodox opinion, but one that falls within the range of scientific plausibility. And it certainly attracts today's innovation-hungry media and an all-star roster of bold-faced scientists. Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz and Craig Ventner all appeared onstage at one of Arizona State's recent astrobiology-focused events, run by Lawrence Krauss' Origins Project. The project centers around public education about developments in cosmology, biology and physics — the building blocks of astrobiology.
Lawrence Krauss
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss speaks at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, Nev. in 2011.
Image: Lawrence Krauss
Krauss described the purpose of Origins: “It brings together scientists from vastly different disciplines to look at forefront questions,” and uses astrobiology and the questions of humanity’s origins as an attention-getter that ropes the public into attending talks and conferences.
Similar research takes place a few hours’ flight away at the University of California, Berkeley. Mathies and colleagues work with NASA to conduct astrobiology research in conjunction with ASU and a few other universities. NASA’s astrobiology program is tasked with funding and promoting research into what they call the “study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.” Astrobiology researchers at Berkeley have conducted groundbreaking research to try to find proof of extraterrestrial microscopic life here in the solar system.
Craig Stark is an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who studies the atmospheres of planets outside the solar system. That means he studies clouds on other planets. In a conversation with Mashable, Stark said these clouds are far different than any hovering above Earth. “They aren’t clouds made of droplets of water; they are made of drops of magnesium, silicates, fancy minerals similar to what you'd see in a volcanic ice cloud on this planet.”
Everything, for astrobiologists, comes down to the question of answering how life first arose — or if they can’t do that, connecting the dots of the conditions that led to life coming into existence. Because NASA and the European Space Agency are constantly fighting for funding, astrobiologists have to fight an uphill battle for their share of the cake. The patents that come with studying strange, novel forms of life help justify their funding.
By finding industrial applications, astrobiologists are able to subsidize their research into E.T.
By finding industrial applications, astrobiologists are able to subsidize their research into E.T. And the occasional huge outer space discovery doesn't hurt.
Since the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed, scientists have identified 1,732 exoplanets outside the solar system. It's a game-changer, Stark says. Because researchers are now able to observe and record data about exoplanets, it’s meant a shift from hypothetical guesses to a more substantial, evidence-based approach toward extraterrestrial life. It has made astrobiologists’ research efforts far easier.
And NASA wants to keep paving the astrobiology roadmap — whether it’s theorizing the origins of life or searching for extraterrestrial life.
Potentially habitable exoplanets
The Habitable Planets Catalog uses a ranking called the Earth Similarity Index. It identifies which of the discovered exoplanets are potentially habitable by humans.
Image: Planetary Habitability Laboratory

The bureaucrats who love science

Since the end of the Space Shuttle program, though, NASA’s role has changed. The venerable space exploration agency, which has had funding challenges ever since the Apollo program, is now part of a space ecosystem in which private players like SpaceX play an increasingly bigger part. More than ever, NASA is a scientific development agency, which means engaging the public to ask legislators for more funds.

For astrobiologists, NASA serves as a clearinghouse.
For astrobiologists, NASA serves as a clearinghouse. It distributes funding, connects similarly minded thinkers and coordinates research across multiple universities and continents. And because of limited funding, NASA relies mostly on university partners to conduct astrobiology research, says Mary Voytek, head of NASA’s astrobiology program. Back in 2008, NASA put into place an astrobiology roadmap [PDF] for the next five years. The plans were stretched past the five-year deadline, reportedly due to the 2013 government shutdown. Voytek says her section was mostly unaffected, but that although “government agencies did as much as they possibly could to protect our greatest assets, we're still recovering … When everyone’s gone, things grind to a halt.”
Academics are now working with NASA to develop a new astrobiology strategic plan, which will determine the future of America’s biological search for alien life. NASA’s new astrobiology roadmap is expected to release in late 2014.
Dr. Mary Voytek
Dr. Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, and Dr. Mike Mumma, principal investigator for Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Center for Astrobiology, examine one of the stations that is part of a new astrobiology exhibit at the GSFC visitor center.
Image: Flickr, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Voytek spoke before the House of Representatives last year to promote her department’s extraterrestrial mandate. In what was essentially a request for more funding, she explained to the House Science committee that her scientists weren’t chasing little green men. Astrobiology is an investment in humanity’s future, by detecting potentially habitable Earth-sized planets, finding proof of water on ancient Mars and developing technological innovations that lead to further mapping of Mars.
The discovery of life outside Earth, whether microbial or otherwise, would at least be the biggest scientific advance since we decoded the human genome, and at most would be the biggest single event in humanity’s history. It would cause NASA’s astrobiology funding to swell, to say the least.
But without that game-changing discovery, astrobiologists continue to struggle for money, both due to NASA’s limited budget and a lack of public understanding for their research.

Answering the existential questions

The astrobiologists I spoke with saw their work as twofold: Their goals are finding biological signatures of life beyond Earth and discovering how life came about on this planet. But that work requires funding, which sometimes must be garnered from skeptical or hostile politicians.