It may sound like a plot from a sci-fi movie, but NASA and scientists are concerned about the foreign viruses contaminating the Earth.
As first humans prepare for mission to Mars, experts warn that protocols are needed to prevent extraterrestrial pollutants from hitchhiking on spacecraft and astronauts when they return home from the planet red.
Stanford professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Scott Hubbard, said in an interview that the solution was “planetary protection”.
Mechanical systems will have to undergo a combination of chemical cleaning and heat sterilization, while tubes containing samples of Mars should be treated “as if they were Ebola until they are safe”.
Hubbard also suggests that astronauts should be quarantined once they have landed on our planet, as did the first men who visited the moon during the Apollo mission.
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As the first humans prepare for the mission to Mars, experts warn that protocols must be created to prevent extraterrestrial pollutants from hitchhiking on spacecraft and astronauts when they return home.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced last year that NASA aims to put humans on Mars in the 2030s – and as early as 2035.
Although exciting, the mission could be detrimental to Earth if the space heroes returned with extraterrestrial pollutants.
Talk with Stanford News Hubbard said, “In my opinion, and that of the scientific community, the chances that millions of years ago rocks from Mars will contain an active life form that could infect Earth are extremely small.”
‘But the [Mars] samples returned by [NASA] will be quarantined and treated as if it were the Ebola virus until it is proven to be safe. “
Stanford Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Scott Hubbard, said in an interview that the solution was “planetary protection”
The tubes that return with the samples on board the next mission Mars 2020, which sends the Perseverance Rover from NASA (artist impression), will have to be “ cooked at high temperature ” because human personnel can interact with them
Space missions spent on Mars, such as Viking I and II in the mid-1970s, used large budget rockets which could be sterilized using intense heat.
However, now that rockets are being developed at low cost in universities and companies like SpaceX, these small craft will “be weighed down by the cost of planetary protection”.
Hubbard notes that while heat alone is not enough to decontaminate the technology, combining the process with chemical cleaning can be effective.
The tubes that return with the samples on board the next Mars 2020 mission, which sends NASA’s Perseverance Rover, will need to be “ baked at high temperatures ” because human personnel can interact with them.
Past space missions to Mars, such as Viking I and II in the mid-1970s, used large budget rockets which could be sterilized using intense heat
“To guard against rear contamination, there is a major effort to” break the chain of contact “between the returning spacecraft and the rock samples from Mars,” said H ubbard.
“For example, stand-alone sealing and welding techniques to create three or four levels of containment are planned.”
“ In my opinion, and that of the scientific community, the probability that rocks from Mars that are millions of years old contain a form of active life that could infect the Earth is extremely low.
“But, the samples returned by MSR will be quarantined and treated as if it were the Ebola virus until they turn out to be safe.”
Hubbard recognizes the fact that humans cannot be cleaned like robots and refers to past protocols.
“As for the humans, the Apollo astronauts from the first lunar missions were quarantined to make sure they showed no signs of illness,” he said.
In the photo, the landing site of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, Perseverance, which will collect samples of the Jezero crater in search of life. “To guard against rear contamination, there is a major effort to” break the chain of contact “between the returning spacecraft and the rock samples from Mars,” said Hubbard
“Once it was found that the moon posed no risk, the quarantine was removed. Such a procedure will no doubt be followed for humans returning from Mars. ”
Experts are not only concerned about contamination of the Earth, but they are also concerned that humans will spread their germs on Mars.
However, a team of researchers from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, as well as their colleagues W. Raquel Peixoto and Alexandre Rosado from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro suggest that human microbes will initiate the process of terraforming the red planet and create an environment that can support life.
The team wants to develop a process that filters out promising microbes and kills dangerous ones before releasing them to Mars.
A major argument of the researchers is that the prevention of contamination is a “virtual impossibility”, as the authors say in the study.
However, space agencies have put in place specific protocols to prevent contamination of other planets and experts have noted that more research needs to be done before starting to pollute other worlds.
The idea of protecting celestial bodies dates back to the 1950s when the philosophy of planetary protection was created for the sole purpose of recommending and designing such protocols that protect space against terrestrial microbes.
He argues that our germs can contaminate scientifically important areas of the solar system – such as how a crime scene can be compromised if an uninvolved person touches evidence.
Although the idea of sterilization has been around for decades, Lopez and his team believe it is inevitable that our germs will reach Mars and other planets.
“Primarily, microbial introduction should not be considered accidental but inevitable,” reads the article published in FEMS Microbiology Ecology.
WHAT EVIDENCE DO SCIENTISTS HAVE FOR LIFE ON MARCH?
The search for life on other planets has captivated humanity for decades.
But the reality may be a little less like Hollywood blockbusters, scientists have revealed.
They say that if there was life on the red planet, it would probably present itself as fossilized bacteria – and proposed a new way to search for it.
Here are the most promising signs of life to date –
When researching life on Mars, experts agree that water is essential.
Although the planet is now rocky and barren with water enclosed in polar ice caps, there could have been water in the past.
In 2000, scientists first identified evidence of water on Mars.
The Nasa Mars Global Surveyor found ravines that could have been created by the flow of water.
There is an ongoing debate over whether these recurring slope lines (RSL) could have formed from the water flow.
Earth has been hit by 34 meteorites from Mars, three of which have the potential to carry evidence of past life on the planet, writes Space.com.
In 1996, experts discovered a meteorite in Antarctica known as ALH 84001 which contained fossilized formations resembling bacteria.
However, in 2012, experts concluded that this organic matter had been formed by volcanic activity without the implication of life.
Signs of life
The first close-ups of the planet were taken by the Mariner 4 mission of 1964.
These first images showed that Mars had landforms that could have formed when the climate was much wetter and therefore life.
In 1975 the first Viking orbiter was launched and, although inconclusive, paved the way for other landers.
Many rovers, orbiters and landers have now revealed traces of water under the crust and even occasional precipitation.
Earlier this year, the NASA Curiosity rover found potential building blocks for life in an ancient Martian lake bed.
Organic molecules stored in the 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock in Gale Crater – which would have contained a shallow lake the size of Lake Okeechobee in Florida – suggest conditions at the time could be favorable to the life.
Future missions to Mars plan to bring samples back to Earth for further testing.
In 2018, Curiosity also confirmed large seasonal increases in methane in the Martian atmosphere.
Experts said the methane sightings provided “one of the most convincing cases” of life today.
Curiosity’s methane measurements took place over four and a half years on Earth, covering parts of three Martian years.
Seasonal peaks were detected in late summer in the northern hemisphere and in late winter in the southern hemisphere.
The magnitude of these seasonal peaks – by a factor of three – was far more than scientists expected.