There’s nothing like government-imposed isolation to bring out the best and the worst in people. It’s time to take a break from the empty shelves, homeschooling, terrifying headlines (and harrowing reality) and the truly unprecedented times we’re currently living in and lighten the load with our favorite memes of COVID-19.
In seriousness, we know these are scary times. We hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well.
As the nation grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the military community and those wishing to join are feeling the effects. A recent memo released by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) states that recruit candidates with a diagnosis of COVID-19 — even after a full recovery — will now be permanently disqualified from joining the military.
“During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying,” the memo reads.
Military Times reached out to a Pentagon spokesperson to verify the accuracy of the MEPCOM memo which began circulating on Twitter on May 4, 2020. The Times confirmed the memo was accurate. This disqualifier for serving impacts not just new potential recruits walking in but also those already in the processing phase. According to the memo, once a potential recruit tests positive they must wait 28 days to return to MEPS. Upon return, they will be labeled “permanently disqualified.”
The military does allow medical waivers in certain cases where there is a disqualifier, so initially the assumption was that this would be the case with COVID-19, as well. This appears to not be the case. With COVID-19 being a new virus and little known about the after-effects of surviving it, there is no current guidance in place to inform those who’d be reviewing potential waivers.
When Military Times asked the Pentagon spokesperson why COVID-19 was being labeled a permanently disqualifying diagnosis when other similar acute illnesses weren’t, they declined to answer the question.
Medical professionals are currently racing to research this virus and compile data to understand it. Research institutes all across the world are doing the same to develop a vaccine. But without reliable information on long-term effects or the potential to have a relapse with the virus, too much is unknown. It may be with this in mind that the DOD is implementing this disqualifier, with the potential for it to be lifted later.
In the meantime, survivors of COVID-19 will be turned away and disqualified from serving this country. The Pentagon has not issued any guidance for active duty service members who contract the virus and recover.
First, as is often the case with women, you wouldn’t expect her to be a military veteran (let alone a Marine), but she served as an Ammunition Technician in Iraq. She also holds multiple college degrees (something you wouldn’t expect from a Marine — zing!) and is a mother of an 8-year-old (and her daughter, by the way, knows the lyrics to Drowning Pools’ “Bodies” and headbangs accordingly).
Probably what’s the most refreshing when you meet Mondesir is how fun-loving and energetic she is. If you’re a fan of Season 2 of John Cena’s “American Grit,” then you already know this.
“It’s pretty hot in Iraq so sometimes things get really tough and you need that extra motivation, and music just does it.”
In her Battle Mix video, she even makes the heat of Iraq sound not so bad. She also talks about how she was privy to Usher’s 2004 hit “Yeah” before the rest of her buddies at boot camp, and I grin every time I watch it.
Fun fact: she’s the only one of WATM’s Battle Mix veterans we had to censor. Just another great Chloe Mondesir surprise.
If you’ve never been on a combat deployment, you’re what many troops call a “boot.” That being said, the different military branches have varying definitions of what a boot is and what it takes to shed the newbie label.
In short, the term is used mainly to describe someone who is fresh out of boot camp and hasn’t done jack sh*t in their military career.
If you’re headed off to serve in the infantry and you’re a boot, you’ll be reminded of that fact several times a day.
Like we said, you’ll be called a boot more times than you’ll care to count — it’s a birthright. However, as more time passes and you thrive in your MOS, you’ll seldom hear that famous word.
2. You’ve worn out your first uniform while “in-country”
When you deploy to a war zone, you typically don’t pack more than just one or two bags. You’re bringing the basics you need to get you through the time you’re expected to be gone.
So, when you wear out one of the uniforms you’ve been fighting in, it’s time to toss that sucker into the burn pit. By that point, chances are you’ve put in a lot of work and you’re no longer a boot.
3. You survived your first real enemy contact
Like we said before, requirements for shedding the “boot” label may vary by branch, but this one is pretty standard for everyone. Once you’ve taken incoming rounds while outside of the wire and you’ve returned fired, you can confidently consider yourself a badass. Many troops freeze up on their first time taking enemy contact — it happens.
4. Someone who’s been around asks for occupational advice
This one’s not a guarantee that your boot status has been lifted, but it’s a great sign.
5. You’re placed in charge of your company’s “boot drop”
Remember when you and a bunch of your fellow troops first arrived at your first unit? That’s what we call a “boot drop.” So, if your sergeant or corporal asks you to handle the onboarding process, chances are, you’re not a boot anymore.
Amidst the ongoing debate about whether female troops should be allowed to serve in combat positions, these women proved that girls have guts.
1. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart was an early pioneer for women in aviation. She became famous for her numerous achievements in flight, and, unfortunately, for her mysterious disappearance in 1937 while attempting a circumnavigation of the earth.
In 1932, she gained notoriety when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. This flight also garnered her a Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress — the first for a women and the first for a civilian.
2. 1st Lt. Aleda Lutz
Aleda Lutz served as a flight nurse aboard C-47 Medevac aircraft during WWII. In 196 missions, Lutz evacuated and treated some 3,500 casualties and was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters for her service.
On Nov. 1, 1944, Lutz flew on her last mission, evacuating wounded soldiers from the fighting in France, when her plane crashed in a storm. Lutz was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “outstanding proficiency and selfless devotion to duty.”
She is also believed to have been the first woman killed in action in WWII.
3. 1st Lt. Roberta S. Ross
Roberta Ross also served as a flight nurse in World War II. Her service took her to Asia where she flew “the hump”, completing over 100 missions. For her efforts, she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Despite heavy fire, Hill made multiple gun runs against insurgents. On her final pass her helicopter received a hit from an RPG which damaged her instruments.
As she banked away, machine gun fire riddled the bottom of her aircraft and struck her in the foot. She managed to limp the damaged aircraft back to a nearby FOB, saving her aircraft and crew.
6. Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar
Mary Jennings Hegar would become only the second woman to ever receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.
While flying a medevac mission, Hegar’s Blackhawk helicopter was shot down by insurgents and she was wounded in a well-executed trap. According to an interview with NPR,she climbed on the skids of a Kiowa helicopter that landed to extract her and, despite her wounds, provided cover fire with her M4 while the aircraft flew off.
For her efforts, she received the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor and the Purple Heart.
7. Sgt. Julia Bringloe
Julia Bringloe was serving as a flight medic on a medevac crew when American and Afghan forces launched Operation Hammer Down in the Pech River Valley. Almost immediately, the units involved started taking casualties, and Bringloe and the rest of her dustoff crew were flying into fierce enemy fire.
While extracting one soldier of many she would rescue over the course of three days, Bringloe’s leg was broken. While ascending a 150-foot lift on a cable with her patient, she had swung into a tree. She refused to quit, however, and over the next 60 hours rescued fourteen soldiers from the battlefield.
Bringloe was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, as were both pilots of her helicopter. The crew chief received an Air Medal with Valor and their efforts were named the Air/Sea Rescue of the Year by the Army Aviation Association of America.
The US Defense Department is making another multi-million dollar investment in high-energy lasers that have the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems, and provide military forces with other portable, less costly options on the battlefield.
US Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and longtime supporter of directed energy research, announced the $17 million investment during a news conference Wednesday inside a Boeing lab where many of the innovations were developed.
The US already has the ability to shoot down enemy rockets and take out other threats with traditional weapons, but Heinrich said it’s expensive.
High-energy lasers and microwave systems represent a shift to weapons with essentially endless ammunition and the ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time, he said.
“This is ready for prime time and getting people to just wrap their head around the fact that you can put a laser on something moving really fast and destroy it … has been the biggest challenge,” said Heinrich, who has an engineering degree.
Boeing has been working on high-energy laser and microwave weapons systems for years. The effort included a billion-dollar project to outfit a 747 with a laser cannon that could shoot down missiles while airborne. The system was complex and filled the entire back half of the massive plane.
With advancements over the past two decades, high-powered laser weapons systems can now fit into a large suitcase for transport across the battlefield or be mounted to a vehicle for targeting something as small as the device that controls the wings of a military drone.
“Laser technology has moved from science fiction to real life,” said Ron Dauk, head of Boeing’s Albuquerque site.
The company’s compact laser system has undergone testing by the military and engineers are working on a higher-powered version for testing next year.
While the technology has matured, Dauk and Heinrich said the exciting part is that it’s on the verge of moving from the lab to the battlefield.
Another $200 million has been requested in this year’s defense appropriations bill that would establish a program within the Pentagon for accelerating the transition of directed-energy research to real applications.
Heinrich said continued investment in such projects will help solidify New Mexico’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research and bring more money and high-tech jobs to the state.
Boeing already contributes about $120 million to the state’s economy through its contracts with vendors.
Both vessels have roughly the same capabilities. They both provide area air-defense while also being able to attack surface ships and submarines.
The Ticonderoga-class cruiser’s main battery consists of two 61-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch systems. These can hold a wide variety of missiles, including the RIM-66 SM-2 Standard Missile, the RIM-174 SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, and the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile. These cruisers also have two five-inch guns, two triple Mk 32 launchers for 12.75-inch torpedoes, two Mk141 quad launchers for the RGM-84 Harpoon, and two Mk 15 Phalanx Close-in Weapon Systems.
The Slava-class cruisers have 16 SS-N-12 “Sandbox” anti-ship missiles, 64 SA-N-6 “Grumble” surface-to-air missiles, two SA-N-4 “Gecko” launchers (each with 20 missiles), a twin 130mm gun, two quintuple 21-inch torpedo tube mounts, and six AK-630 30mm Gatling guns. This is a fearsome arsenl, but it leaves the Slava somewhat short on land-attack capability.
So, what happens when you pit these two powerhouses against each other? Of course, it depends in large part on who sees the other first. The Slava can operate one Ka-27 Helix helicopter compared to two Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawks on a Ticonderoga. This gives the Ticonderoga an edge, since the two Seahawks could, through triangulation of the Slava’s radar, give a good enough fix for the Ticonderoga to fire its Harpoons.
The key part of this hypothetical battle is the exchange of anti-ship missiles. The Slava has twice as many missiles as the Ticonderoga — each with a range of 344 miles — and a conventional warhead of roughly one ton that could tear a Ticonderoga apart, but these missiles fly at high altitude and, despite going more than twice the speed of sound, are easy pickings for the Aegis system onboard the Ticonderoga. Here, the Ticonderoga’s Harpoons may be more likely to get a hit or two in, despite the Slava’s missile armament. The SA-N-6 may have a long range, but the Harpoons come in at very low altitude. At least one or two Harpoons will likely hit the Slava. The Ticonderoga’s MH-60R Seahawks, if equipped with AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missiles, could provide a second volley. At least one of the Penguins would likely hit as well.
After this exchange, the Slava will likely need to deal with fires, flooding, and disabled combat systems. From here, the Ticonderoga is left with two options: fire five-inch guns equipped with the Vulcano round or take the risk of closing to finish the job. Getting too close, however, would put the Ticonderoga within range of the Slava’s torpedo tubes, which could seriously damage — if not sink — the American cruiser.
So in a fight between a Russian missile cruiser and an American missile cruiser, who would win? At the end of the day, we’d put our money, as we always do, on the American Ticonderoga-class cruiser.
The US Air Force has presented several plans for replacing the beloved A-10 Warthog close air support attack plane over the years, but their latest plan takes the cake as the most absurd.
As it stands, the Air Force wants to purchase or develop not one, but two new airframes to eventually phase out the A-10.
First, they’d pick out a plane, likely an existing one, called the OA-X, (Observation, Attack, Experimental), which would likely be an existing plane with a low operating cost. Propeller-driven planes like the Beechcraft AT-6, already in use as a training plane for the Air Force, or Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which the US recently gave to Afghanistan for counter-insurgency missions, are possible options.
The OA-X would fly with A-10s in low-threat air spaces to support the tank-buster, however this option appears to make little sense.
A sub-sonic, propeller-driven plane can perform essential close air support duties in much the same way a World War II era platform could, but it’s a sitting duck for the kind of man-portable, shoulder-launched air defense systemsbecoming increasingly prominent in today’s battle spaces.
Next, the Air Force would look to field an A-X2 to finally replace the Warthog. The idea behind this jet would be to preserve the A-10’s CAS capabilities while increasing survivability in medium-threat level environments.
So while an update on the 40-year-old A-10 seems to make sense, the funding for it doesn’t.
The Air Force expects a “bow-wave” of costs in the mid-2020s, when modernization costs are looming and can’t be put off any further. This includes procuring F-35s, developing the B-21, procuring KC-46 tankers, and even possibly embarking on the quest to build a sixth-generation air dominance platform.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James seemed puzzled by the proposed plan to replace the A-10, saying in an interview with Defense News, “everything has a price tag … If something goes in, something else has to fall out.”
Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, noted to Defense News his doubts that the proposed replacements would be a good use of limited public funds.
“If you look at the things within the combat Air Force portfolio that I’m responsible for in modernization and taking care of those systems, I don’t know where the money would come from,” Carlisle said. “And if we got extra money, in my opinion, there’s other things that I would do first to increase our combat capability before we go to that platform.”
Also, Carlisle doubted the need for a plane to operate in low-threat or “permissive” airspaces, as they are fast disappearing.
“Given the evolving threat environment, I sometimes wonder what permissive in the future is going to look like and if there’s going to be any such thing, with the proliferation of potential adversaries out there,” he said.
“The idea of a low-end CAS platform, I’m working my way through whether that’s a viable plan or not given what I think the threat is going to continue to evolve to, to include terrorists and their ability to get their hands on, potentially, weapons from a variety of sources.”
Furthermore, the Air Force’s proposal seems to run contrary to other proposals to replace the A-10 in the past. For a while, Air Force officials said that the F-35 would take over for the A-10, and though the F-35 just reached operational capability, it was not mentioned as part of the newest proposal.
Air Force General Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that other legacy fighters, the F-16 and F-15 could fly the A-10’s missions in Iraq and Syria until the F-35 was available, but that idea was also mysteriously absent from the Air Force’s two-new-plane proposal.
GNC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday night, announcing that it expects to close between 800 and 1,200 stores while on the hunt for a buyer for its business. The vitamins and supplements retailer had about 7,300 stores as of the end of March.
In a letter to shoppers, GNC said the COVID-19 pandemic “created a situation where we were unable to accomplish our refinancing and the abrupt change in the operating environment had a dramatic negative impact on our business.”
GNC identified 248 stores that would close imminently as part of the restructuring process. Stores are closing in 42 states, as well as in Puerto Rico and Canada.
Here are the first of the locations GNC plans to close, arranged alphabetically by state:
Quintard Mall, 700 Quintard Drive, Oxford, AL
Flagstaff Mall, 4650 E 2 N Hwy 89, Flagstaff, AZ
Arrowhead Town Center, 7700 West Arrowhead Towne, Glendale, AZ
Madera Village, 9121 E. Tanque Verde Rd, Suite 115, Tucson, AZ
Benton Commons, 1402 Military Road, Benton, AR
Northwest Arkansas Plaza, 4201 North Shiloh Dr, Fayetteville, AR
The Mall at Turtle Creek, 3000 East Highland Ave, Space # 309, Jonesboro, AR
Park Plaza, 6000 W. Markham, Little Rock, AR
North Park Village Shopping Center, 103 North Park Dr, Monticello, AR
McCain Mall Shopping Center, 3929 McCain Blvd, North Little Rock, AR
Brawley Gateway, Brawley, CA
Rancho Marketplace Shopping Center, Burbank, CA
La Costa Town Square, 7615 Via Campanile Suite, Carlsbad, CA
Centrepointe Plaza, 1100 Mount Vernon Ave, Suite B, Colton, CA
Mountain Gate Plaza, 160 W. Foothill Parkway, #106, Corona, CA
Town Place, 787 1st Street, Gilroy, CA
Victoria Gardens, 12379 S Main St., Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Monterey Marketplace, Rancho Mirage, CA
Red Bluff Shopping Center, 925 South Main Street, Red Bluff, CA
Tierrasanta Town Center, San Diego, CA
Grayhawk Plaza, 20701 N. Scotsdale Rd, Suite 105, Scottsdale, AZ
Buena Park Mall, 8312 On The Mall, Buena Park, CA
East Bay Bridge Center, 3839 East Emery Street, Emeryville, CA
Vintage Faire Mall, 3401 Dale Road, Modesto, CA
Huntington Oaks Shopping Center, 514 W. Huntington Drive, Box 1106, Monrovia, CA
Del Monte Shopping Center, 350 Del Monte S.C., Monterey, CA
Antelope Valley Mall, 1233 Rancho Vista Blvd, Palmdale, CA
Town Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA
Rancho Bernardo Town Center, Rancho Bernardo, CA
Rocklin Commons, 5194 Commons Drive 107, Rocklin, CA
Westfield Shoppingtown Mainplace, 2800 North Main Street, Suite 302, Santa Ana, CA
Gateway Plaza Shopping Center, 580b River St, Suite B, Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Rosa Plaza, 600 Santa Rosa Plaza, Suite 2032, Santa Rosa, CA
The Promenade Mall, 40820 Winchester Road, Temecula, CA
West Valley Mall, 3200 N. Naglee Rd., Suite 240, Tracy, CA
Union Square Marketplace, Union City, CA
Riverpoint Marketplace, West Sacramento, CA
Yucaipa Valley Center, 33676 Yucaipa Blvd, Yucaipa, CA
Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd at Jamboree Drive, Colorado Springs, CO
The Citadel, 750 Citadel Drive East, Space 1036, Colorado Springs, CO
River Landing, 3480 Wolverine Dr, Montrose, CO
Monument Marketplace, 15954 Jackson Creek Pkwy, Monument, CO
Central Park Plaza, 1809 Central Park Dr., Steamboat Springs, CO
Larkridge Shopping Center, 16560 N. Washington St, Thornton, CO
Woodland Park Plaza, 1115 E US Hwy 24, Woodland Park, CO
The Plaza At Burr Corners, 1131 Tolland Pike, Manchester, CT
Dover Mall, 1365 N. Dupont Highway, Dover, DE
Gateway West Shopping Center, 1030 Forest Ave, Dover, DE
Rockford Shops, 1404 North Dupont St, Wilmington, DE
Boynton Beach Mall, 801 N Congress St, Suite 763, Boynton Beach, FL
Clearwater Plaza, 1283 S. Missouri Ave, Clearwater, FL
Coral Square, 9295 West Atlantic Blvd, Coral Springs, FL
Dupont Lakes Shopping Center, 2783 Elkcam Blvd, Deltona, FL
The Shops @ Mission Lakes, 5516 South State Rd 7, Space # 128, Lake Worth, FL
Wickham Corners Shopping, 1070 North Wickham Road, Unit 106, Melbourne, FL
While serving as Miss Rocky Gap, Emma Lutton, of New Windsor, Maryland, had to combine her philanthropic efforts and pageant-winner responsibilities with another entirely separate set of duties as a lieutenant junior grade in the United States Coast Guard.
Lutton won the Miss Rocky Gap title in March, and the last several months of her title reign have overlapped with her final deployment with the Coast Guard in the Caribbean. Now that she’s back in the States, Lutton is looking to expand her role in the Miss America Pageant system as she competes against other local title holders for the role of Miss Maryland this week.
Unlike many others who began their pageantry careers earlier, Lutton said the Miss Rocky Gap competition was only her second ever attempt at winning a crown. She said she was inspired after seeing the work her younger sister was doing as a title holder.
“I had this misconception that pageants were just about looking pretty and being dumb,” Lutton said. “Then I realized how big of a difference I could make with charities and community service.”
Under the recommendation of current Miss Maryland Hannah Brewer, a Hampstead resident, Lutton decided to compete in the Miss Rocky Gap contest — the very same contest that started Brewer on her path to the Miss Maryland title.
Lutton said she was attracted to the Miss America pageants due to their emphasis on scholarships, which she is currently eyeing to help pay for graduate school. Lutton graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2015 and is currently interested in studying to become a patent lawyer.
Though her father and older brother both served in the Navy, Lutton said she wasn’t initially interested in the military.
“I thought, ‘You guys are cool, but I’m going to do my own cool thing,'” Lutton said. “My senior year, I realized I really wanted to be an engineer, but I love people and I love making a difference while not just sitting in a cubical.”
After visiting the Coast Guard Academy, Lutton said she knew it was the place for her. She said one of the main draws of the Coast Guard over the other military branches is the high percentage of women in the service and the lack of barriers for females.
“I didn’t want to work really hard and find out that a certain path is closed off to me just because I’m a girl,” she said.
For her platform, Lutton chose to support the Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, providing care packages to service members overseas. She said she’s also passionate about supporting military family members, who don’t always have the support they need.”
“There’s not enough out there for families who are picking up and moving when we go,” Lutton said. “The most popular jobs for military spouses are nursing and teaching, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to get re-certified every time they move.”
Emma’s mother, Patty, said she is appreciative of her daughter’s service in and out of the military.
“When she decided to go into the Coast Guard, we were a little apprehensive to have two out of our three kids in the military,” she said, “but we’re incredibly proud of her.”
Lutton has been competing in the Miss Maryland pageant throughout the week, with preliminary interviews, swimsuit, talent, and evening gown competitions taking place. On June 24th, the field will be narrowed down to the top 10, one of whom will be crowned Miss Maryland by the end of the night.
Lutton said she’s excited just to make it this far, and is thrilled that both the pageantry and her service can complement each other.
“I think the two things really help support each other,” Lutton said. “Being in the Coast Guard helps make me a stronger woman that little girls can look up to, and being in the pageant can help the visibility of the Coast Guard which is a smaller service.”
Lego lovers are known for their massive, over-the-top recreations of everything from The Wall from Game of Thrones to the battles and spaceships of Star Wars, but three big “brickheads,” Dan Siskind, Yitsy Kasowitz, and Cody Ossell, debuted a recreation of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day+1 at a large Lego convention in 2016 — to massive acclaim.
The beach scene features everything from tanks to mortars to ships and sea, as well as landing vehicles moving back and forth, ferrying supplies.
A medical unit treats wounded troops in one section while other soldiers move German prisoners across the sand.
The brick display features obstacles and fortifications, but wasn’t made to be perfectly accurate to history. For one, not everything is to scale. Most of the armored vehicles are nearly as tall as the cliffs they’re moving towards — and there’s a mermaid on the Landing Ship, Tank. The hippos in the water are probably incorrect, too, but we couldn’t tell you for sure as our zoologist is out sick today.
Check out the video above to see the map rooms, bunkers, and spent shells hiding in their complex, massive design.
A wide shot of the D-Day+1 scene created for Brickmania 2016 showing Allied forces landing on the beaches of Normandy and pushing inland.
(Screenshot via Beyond the Brick YouTube)
The LST portion of the build is particularly impressive and has ranks of trucks waiting for their chance to drive down to the beach with towed artillery, supplies, and water tanks. Anti-aircraft crews man guns across the uppermost levels, and there’s even a signalman directing traffic on the deck.
Canadian troops guard German prisoners on the day after D-Day, June 7, 1944.
(Library and Archives of Canada)
Some of the scenes in the Lego creation are more accurate than the men in the video imagined, like the troops guarding German prisoners. The interviewer and one of the creators go back and forth about whether it was likely that German prisoners would still be on the beach, but some Canadian troops spent the early hours of June 7, you guessed it, guarding German prisoners.
Still, it’s doubtful that Captain America was in attendance.
Scientists have reproduced in the lab how the ingredients for life could have formed deep in the ocean 4 billion years ago. The results of the new study offer clues to how life started on Earth and where else in the cosmos we might find it.
Astrobiologist Laurie Barge and her team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working to recognize life on other planets by studying the origins of life here on Earth. Their research focuses on how the building blocks of life form in hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.
To re-create hydrothermal vents in the lab, the team made their own miniature seafloors by filling beakers with mixtures that mimic Earth’s primordial ocean. These lab-based oceans act as nurseries for amino acids, organic compounds that are essential for life as we know it. Like Lego blocks, amino acids build on one another to form proteins, which make up all living things.
A time-lapse video of a miniature hydrothermal chimney forming in the lab, as it would in early Earth’s ocean. Natural vents can continue to form for thousands of years and grow to tens of yards (meters) in height.
“Understanding how far you can go with just organics and minerals before you have an actual cell is really important for understanding what types of environments life could emerge from,” said Barge, the lead investigator and the first author on the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Also, investigating how things like the atmosphere, the ocean and the minerals in the vents all impact this can help you understand how likely this is to have occurred on another planet.”
Found around cracks in the seafloor, hydrothermal vents are places where natural chimneys form, releasing fluid heated below Earth’s crust. When these chimneys interact with the seawater around them, they create an environment that is in constant flux, which is necessary for life to evolve and change. This dark, warm environment fed by chemical energy from Earth may be the key to how life could form on worlds farther out in our solar system, far from the heat of the Sun.
“If we have these hydrothermal vents here on Earth, possibly similar reactions could occur on other planets,” said JPL’s Erika Flores, co-author of the new study.
Barge and Flores used ingredients commonly found in early Earth’s ocean in their experiments. They combined water, minerals and the “precursor” molecules pyruvate and ammonia, which are needed to start the formation of amino acids. They tested their hypothesis by heating the solution to 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) — the same temperature found near a hydrothermal vent — and adjusting the pH to mimic the alkaline environment. They also removed the oxygen from the mixture because, unlike today, early Earth had very little oxygen in its ocean. The team additionally used the mineral iron hydroxide, or “green rust,” which was abundant on early Earth.
The green rust reacted with small amounts of oxygen that the team injected into the solution, producing the amino acid alanine and the alpha hydroxy acid lactate. Alpha hydroxy acids are byproducts of amino acid reactions, but some scientists theorize they too could combine to form more complex organic molecules that could lead to life.
“We’ve shown that in geological conditions similar to early Earth, and maybe to other planets, we can form amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids from a simple reaction under mild conditions that would have existed on the seafloor,” said Barge.
Barge’s creation of amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids in the lab is the culmination of nine years of research into the origins of life. Past studies, which built on the foundational work of co-author and JPL chemist Michael Russell, looked at whether the right ingredients for life are found in hydrothermal vents, and how much energy those vents can generate (enough to power a light bulb). But this new study is the first time her team has watched an environment very similar to a hydrothermal vent drive an organic reaction. Barge and her team will continue to study these reactions in anticipation of finding more ingredients for life and creating more complex molecules. Step by step, she’s slowly inching her way up the chain of life.
Laurie Barge, left, and Erika Flores, right, in JPL’s Origins and Habitability Lab in Pasadena, California.
This line of research is important as scientists study worlds in our solar system and beyond that may host habitable environments. Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, for example, could have hydrothermal vents in oceans beneath their icy crusts. Understanding how life could start in an ocean without sunlight would assist scientists in designing future exploration missions, as well as experiments that could dig under the ice to search for evidence of amino acids or other biological molecules.
Future Mars missions could return samples from the Red Planet’s rusty surface, which may reveal evidence of amino acids formed by iron minerals and ancient water. Exoplanets — worlds beyond our reach but still within the realm of our telescopes — may have signatures of life in their atmospheres that could be revealed in the future.
“We don’t have concrete evidence of life elsewhere yet,” said Barge. “But understanding the conditions that are required for life’s origin can help narrow down the places that we think life could exist.”
This research was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s JPL Icy Worlds team.
Featured image: An image of Saturn’s moon Enceladus backlit by the Sun, taken by the Cassini mission. The false color tail shows jets of icy particles and water that spray into space from an ocean that lies deep below the moon’s icy surface. Future missions could search for the ingredients for life in an ocean on an icy moon like Enceladus.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya (“Dream” in Ukrainian language) is the world’s largest airplane. Designed at the end of Cold War, its main purpose was to carry the Soviet “Buran” space shuttle and parts of the “Energia” rocket. Currently, the sole existing example (UR-82060) is used commercially, as an international cargo transporter.
Mriya is not the largest aircraft ever built: this title belongs to the Hughes H-4 Spruce Goose hydroplane, that made only a single flight.
The An-225 is performing a series of flights to deliver boilers for thermal power plant of Bolivia from Iquique, Chile, to Chimore, Bolivia. In each flight Mriya carries the cargo weighing up to 160 tons. This video shows a take off from Chimore.