Patricia Ann Straat was Co-Experimenter of the Labeled Release life detection experiment on the 1976 Viking Mission, the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, and a member of the Biology Flight Team during the Viking Mission. She was also a team member of the Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer (IRIS) experiment on board the 1971 Mariner 9 Mission, the first spacecraft to orbit Mars.
She received her undergraduate degree from Oberlin College and her PhD from Johns Hopkins University in biochemistry. After four postdoctoral years, she became an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health (now known as the Bloomburg School of Public Health), after which she began work on the Labeled Release experiment with Dr. Gil Levin, Experimenter of the LR. Following the Viking Mission, she became a health scientist administrator at the National Institutes of Health, retiring in 2001. During retirement, she has continued work on Mars issues and analyses of the Labeled Release experiment, publishing several papers in collaboration with Gil Levin.
Dr. Straat has recently published a book titled “To Mars With Love” which is the story of the development of the Labeled Release Experiment. The controversial Labeled Release results, positive for microbial life, have been published many times, but the story of the development of the flight experiment – with all its challenges, trials, and tribulations – has never before been told. Dr. Straat worked side by side with the engineers in developing this experiment. The book encapsulates the six years prior to the Viking landing as well as the primary mission with all its tense and humorous moments, bringing to life both the atmosphere and people involved in the mission. The engineering aspects, with never-before-published details, emphasize the enormous problems encountered in such an endeavor. The question of life on Mars is discussed in balanced perspective with possible problems and directions for future Mars exploration.