- NASA may have contaminated Mars with life, according to an Ivy League scientist.
- Life discovered on the Red Planet may have “originated from NASA labs,” said Christopher Mason.
- Microbes can wreak havoc when they arrive in a new ecosystem, he wrote in a BBC article.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
As explorations on the Red Planet continue, a Cornell scientist has questioned whether the life discovered on Mars could actually have “come from Earth in NASA labs,” reported The Hill.
Christopher Mason, professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, said such a scenario could have happened despite rigorous cleaning processes and the assembly of spaceships in specialized rooms.
Mason wrote in depth on the subject in an article for the BBC. Spacecraft, like NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, are built in carefully sterilized rooms – with air filters and strict biological procedures – one layer at a time, with all equipment cleaned before being added. machine, he explained.
These methods limit the sending of bacteria, viruses or fungi to machines on mission.
“But, it’s almost impossible to get to zero biomass on a spacecraft,” Mason wrote. “Microbes have been on Earth for billions of years, and they are everywhere. They are inside us, on our bodies and all around us. Some can sneak into even the cleanest clean rooms.”
Video: SpaceX reveals orbital flight test plan for its Starship rocket (CNBC)
Click to enlarge
In two recent studies conducted by Mason, he highlights how some organisms might survive the cleaning process and the journey to Mars, as well as the speed at which microbial species can thrive in space.
“It turns out that cleanrooms could serve as an evolutionary breeding process for the more resistant insects which could then have a greater chance of surviving a trip to Mars,” he wrote.
The clean rooms at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory pose the greatest risk as evidence of microbes with greater resistance to radiation and cold environments has been discovered.
Mason added that if these microbes appear on Mars, it would cause what researchers call “forward contamination” – that is, when humanity could bring something from one planet to another, intentionally or not.
He warned that microbes can “wreak havoc” when they arrive in a new ecosystem, and they can also pose harmful threats to the health of astronauts.
Perseverance landed on Mars in February and began looking for signs that could point to ancient life on the Red Planet.
NASA said it has taken extra precautions to ensure all samples returned from Mars will be safely contained. Scientists, however, are aware that testing may be necessary to ensure the results are of Martian origin.