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Why Various Mission to Mars Might Mess Up Hunt for Life

Sep 27, 2016 04:04 AM EDT

Mankind has always been so fascinated in finding more about Earth's neighboring planets, including the search for alien life. However, NASA is concerned that the recent attempts to investigate Mars might also contaminate the special regions where it is most likely to find alien life. 

"If we're going to look for life on Mars, it would be really kind of lame to bring to Earth life and find that instead," Cassie Conley, NASA's planetary protection officer said in an interview with New York Times. Conley's job as a planetary protection officer is to ensure that Mars stays pristine as possible for the benefit of both Earth and the red planet.

Humans carry microbes everywhere they go, even in space. This is where the fear of contaminating Mars comes from. A recent study by NASA is looking into fungi grown from microbes collected from the International Space Station (ISS). The microbes are believed to be remnants of the 200 astronauts that crossed the Earth's atmosphere to space. The study is being conducted in preparation for the upcoming journey to Mars, and to prevent potential Mars contamination due to the search for life. NASA is concerned that some invasive microbes might travel to Mars during the mission and then thrive on the red planet.

Experts say that human presence or even robotic ones might disrupt the natural order of Earth's neighboring planets including Mars. The robotic presence might attract invasive microbes that can potentially contaminate the red planet. For years, more and more landers and machines landed and operate on the red planet. Aside from carrying equipment for scientific puposes, microbes might have hitch hiked with the spacecraft from the base on Earth and landed on the red planet as well. Conley's job is to make sure that none of this happens.

Although NASA already assured that it is "highly unlikely" for Mars to sustain and cultivate life, discussions on messing up the hunt for life haven't stopped yet. Some argue that even though the scenario is less likely to happen if there will be an increased artificial and robotic presence on Mars, the risk of contamination is also high.

NASA had also identified regions in Mars that can potentially hold Earth life, according to National Geographic. These areas are highly protected because of its potential and its would-be contribution to the scientific community. What worries the experts is that potential Martian areas to hold Earth life is the same as the special regions where man are likely to find Martian life. Thus, contaminating the said areas will mean a dimmer chance of finding alien life.

But according to Conley, Mars is still pretty clean and the moment and the scheduled missions to Mars are preparing new and innovative tools to help preserve the natural order in Mars so as not to contaminate any regions on the red planet, special or not.


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