Sunday, February 24, 2013

David S. McKay 1936-2013

On February 19, 2013 David S. McKay passed away after a long illness. He was. PhD student at Rice University in 1961 when President Kennedy came to Rice for his speech committing the US to land on the Moon. He worked for NASA since 1965. On field trips from Texas to Hawaii, he trained Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in geology. Dr. McKay was the only geologist present in Mission Control when Armstrong and Aldrin stepped on the Moon. Dave McKay is best known today for his team's 1996 paper finding signs of life in Martian Antarctic meteorite ALH84001. The meteor was formed 3.5 billion years ago before being ejected from Mars and eventually landing in Antarctica. A Johnson Space Center geologist named Robbie Score found the meteorite on an Antarctic expedition in 1984. The McKay group's findings began the modern science of Astrobiology. Old models of the Sun predicted that 3.5 billion years ago Earth and Mars were too cold to support life. The Sun converts fuel to energy according to E=mc^2. Because the speed of light was faster at that time, solar luminosity was almost exactly today's value, allowing life to have evolved on Earth and Mars. Indications of Martian life 3.5 billion years old are another sign that the speed of light has slowed. I had the honor or working with Dave McKay from 2008 until near the end. Dave's generosity and experience with lunar samples was deeply appreciated. Manu woman scientist's careers were aided by Dave. Today February 24 I attended his funeral in Friendswood, Texas. His loss is deeply felt by his family and colleagues.

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