Seen on RISKS-L

From: William Donzelli <>
Date: Fri Mar 8 21:37:35 2002

> > The item referred to above is as follows:
> >
> > "In 1999, USC neurobiologist Joseph Miller asked NASA to check some old data
> > the Viking probes had sent back from Mars in the mid-1970s. Miller wanted
> to
> > find out whether certain information on gas released by Martian soil, which
> > at the time had been dismissed as meaningless "chemical activity," was
> > actually evidence of microbial life. NASA found the tapes he requested, but
> > they didn't find any way to read them. It turns out that the data, despite
> > being only about 25 years old, was in a format NASA had long since
> forgotten
> > about. Or, as Miller puts it, "The programmers who knew it had died."

This information has started me to think. My opinion is that something is
very FISHY about the whole incident. I am not calling anyone on this list
a liar, nor flaming, but...

In the 20 some odd years that transpired between the receiving of data and
this request - no one cared about this data? C'mon, guys. The Viking
missions were some of the most eagerly anticipated spaceprobes ever (the
"life on Mars" thing), with *thousands* of scientists that could not wait
to get their hands on the data as soon as they could. Especially data
concerning chemical analysis of the Martian environment. Am I to believe
that only a few programmers knew about this data, and were the big
bottleneck/secret to get the numbers out? None of the thousands of
scientists were able to get the full dataset? And no one complained? There
are not copies of the processed data floating around the world in labs and
universities? And really - how tricky was this format? The Vikings were
not complicated very complicated in the brain.

It sound to me like a myth in the making, as well. Maybe this NASA manager
was a goof and quickly dismissed or screwed up the request (maybe a bad
day at the office?), or maybe plain old stupid (can't read the tape on his
Wintel box, so quickly covers his tracks)?

Just some opinions...

William Donzelli
Received on Fri Mar 08 2002 - 21:37:35 GMT

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