Dr. Levin met T. Keith Glennan, the first administrator of NASA, at a Christmas party and asked if the space agency, recently established at the time, was interested in looking for life on Mars. He proposed the idea of the labeled release experiment, and NASA began financing its development.
After the sale of his consulting company, Dr. Levin worked at Hazelton Laboratories in Vienna, Va. In 1967, he was offered a professorship at Colorado State University, but instead he founded Biospherics Research, which he later renamed Spherix. Tagatose was to be the company’s blockbuster project, but success never arrived.
“He lost control of the company when there was a large section of the board of directors that took over the company,” Henry Levin said.
Spherix, now known as Alkido Pharma, abandoned tagatose and moved on to create other businesses, like using artificial intelligence to develop new medicines.
In addition to his son Henry, Dr. Levin, who had homes in Chevy Chase, Md., and Palm Beach, Fla., is survived by another son, Ron; a daughter, Carol Sanchez; and six grandchildren. His wife, Karen, died in 2019.
What Dr. Levin’s Mars experiment did or did not discover remains unresolved.
“He made a major step forward,” said James L. Green, NASA’s chief scientist. “He kept us thinking about, well, what could it be?”
A real answer awaits the return of rock and dirt samples from Mars that NASA’s new Perseverance rover will soon begin collecting. But Perseverance has no way to launch the samples back to Earth. The mission to pick them up and bring them back is still on the drawing board, and scientists will not be able to examine those samples until the 2030s.