Space: Viking: The First Signs of Life?

It was an electrifying announcement. At a hastily called press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, last weekend, Viking Scientist Harold Klein reported that the newly begun biology experiments aboard the Mars lander had already shown a strange process—perhaps life—going on in the Martian soil. Said Klein: "We have at least preliminary evidence of a very active surface material. It looks at first indication very much like biological activity."

The evidence that excited Viking scientists came from two of the three biological tests that had begun only three days earlier. One of the Viking experiments, designed to detect respiration,...

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