Former NASA astrobiologist Richard Hoover is no stranger to controversy. After writing more than 250 scientific papers over his lengthy career and serving as the leader for NASA's Astrobiology Group, Hoover was the subject of an epic takedown by the wider scientific community. The controversy came when Hoover claimed he had found conclusive evidence of the discovery of extraterrestrial life contained in meteorite samples. His 2011 paper argued that meteorite samples contained fossilized traces of extraterrestrial organisms. Scientists from various fields lept to point out errors in Hoover's research, something that was picked up widely by mainstream media outlets. Today, two and half years after his controversial paper was published, Hoover attended the International UFO Congress reaffirm his confidence in his research and offer some surprising responses to is critics and former employers, NASA.
Entitled 'Is life restricted to planet Earth - Or is life more widely distributed throughout the universe?', Hoover's lecture centered around his controversial research regarding the discovery of microbial fossils on carbonaceous meteorite samples. Opening by outlining the key ingredients necessary for the existence of all known life, Hoover draws on the example of microbial extremophiles (microscopic organisms found in habitats previously thought uninhabitable) to prove that life is far more resilient than we originally thought. This resilience opens up the possibility that life could be found in an incredibly wide range of habitats across the universe, even meteors. Hoover illustrates this point using the example of Tardigrades, a water-dwelling extremophile that is able to survive in brutally hostile conditions. This toughness was confirmed in a 2007 experiment in which it became the first organism ever to survive exposure to open space.
Indeed, microbial extremophiles have been found on meteorite samples, but despite Hoover's claims that these are extraterrestrial in nature, the majority of scientists argue that this is merely a case of contamination from Earthly organisms. Hoovers rebuttal to these claims centers around the argument that these organisms were long since thought to be extinct, so it would be rare occurrence for such an organism to find it's way from extinction onto a fresh meteorite sample.
Most interesting though, was Hoover's criticism of his former employers. The ex-NASA man doesn't pull any punches when addressing the agency's track record with potentially significant discoveries, calling the them out specifically over the failure to release images that apparently show snow on Mars for over 19 years. The images were taken by NASA's Viking rover in 1979, but not released until 1997 and Hoover asks the simple question...Why?
Hoover continues his criticism of NASA drawing on a string of controversial behaviour by the Space Agency. In 2004, NASA's Mars Opportunity Rover took an image that Hoover states clearly shows a fossilized Crinoid, a small microbial being found here on in marine environments here on Earth. What did NASA do with this evidence? Hoover claims that, to his dismay, NASA destroyed the fossil using Opportunity's Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT).
This criticism of NASA concludes with his questioning of the agency's approach to investigating life on Mars. The astrobiologist deplores NASA's choice to not send a life detection experiment to Mars despite what he describes as strong signs that life once existed on the Red Planet.
Much of what Hoover described throughout his hour-long lecture is readily available in various corners of the internet and, while he did not present any new evidence, the lecture served to highlight the man's passion for his field. Hoover is not a crook looking to make money from outlandish claims, he has presented evidence - and lots of it - that he believes supports his hypothesis of the discovery that extraterrestrial fossils exist on carbonaceous meteorites. However, NASA will continue to distance themselves from Hoover's research just as much as other researchers will continue to question his work. Hoover isn't put off though, far from it. The former NASA inventor of the year still concludes that extraterrestrial life exists and now it seems he is the one with questions to ask, most specifically to his former employers.