July 14, 2009
Gentry Lee, a chief engineer for JPL's solar system missions, narrates a two-hour documentary that explores the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. The program airs on the Discovery Channel Thursday, July 16 at 9 p.m., and Friday, July 17 at midnight (Eastern and Pacific).
The documentary explores the topic from a scientific perspective, diving into the factors that would be necessary to produce life elsewhere in the galaxy by experimenting with various environments on Earth. Along the way, Lee and other scientists explain nuts-and-bolts stuff, like how "Only planets at least the size of Earth have the internal heat necessary to ... support life," whereas a "giant gas ball" like Jupiter would be too big.
Lee was chief engineer for the Galileo project from 1977 to 1988 and, after working in a variety of positions on the Viking project from 1968 to 1976, was director of science analysis and mission planning during the Viking operations activities. In his current position as chief engineer for JPL's Solar System Exploration Directorate, Lee is responsible for the engineering integrity of all the robotic planetary missions managed by JPL.