For more than a year, I’ve been doing a different kind of journalism; working with Charles W. Gehrke writing a book about his life and his times. While his name might not be a household word, his work is basic to something we take for granted: there is no lif e on the moon. Before Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, there were concerns that there might be life on the moon and bringing back moon samples could lead to epidemics from microbes to which we had no immunity. A NASA news release from 1968 outlines the precautions taken to ensure if there was life on the moon, any pathogens would be contained so the Earth wouldn’t be contaminated.
But once Charles analyzed the moon samples brought back, it was certain there was no life on the moon.
How could he be so certain? Charles had been doing groundbreaking work using gas liquid chromatography to detect amino acids in agricultural products such as wheat and soil samples. His peer-reviewed publications showed he could analyze samples for amino acids with a confidence level significantly greater than that required by NASA.
That’s why Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma tapped him to be a co-investigator to analyze the moon samples when they were brought back from the July 20, 1969 moon landing by Apollo.
So, without Charles’ work, we might still be wondering if there was life on the moon. But he’ll tell you with an exclamation mark included, there are no life molecules on the moon!