Numerous agencies and space exploration face a challenge now and in the future: how to protect life on earth from potential alien microbes and also defend potential aliens against contamination from Earth.
The Martian environment is not understood at the moment with any sort of detailed sophistication which could pose threats to human missions on Mars, according to Catharine Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer. For example, “bleach flying in the dust in Mars” could potentially be a human health hazard.
“The benefit of having humans in space is that they’re much more flexible than robots, but they could contaminate Mars with Earth life,” she said. At the same time astronauts have to make sure they don’t bring back alien microbes to Earth where they might spread like wildfire. The same works for the opposite situation, the microbes living in human environment shouldn’t contaminate other worlds.
Maintaining the scientific integrity of celestial sample from such destinations as Mars will help scientists to learn more about solar system formation and maybe even about the origin and evolution of life on Earth, which will lead NASA to release a report detailing 25 planetary protection knowledge gaps.
According to the report there are three areas where gasps occur:
- the intersection of space-based microbes and human health;
- how contaminants traverse on Mars and from missions between Mars and Earth;
- tools for controlling possible contaminations.