Stanford professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Scott Hubbard urges the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make protocols for the human Mars mission. He cautioned them that alien viruses could hitchhike on astronauts and the spaceship when they return home from the red planet, which could lead to contaminating Earth.
Hubbard suggests a 'planetary protection' such as disinfecting rockets with chemical cleaning and intense heat, as well as astronauts to undergo a quarantine period - just like the first men who visited the moon in the Apollo mission - to make sure that they are not sick. He also noted that samples taken from Mars should be treated like the Ebola virus until proven safe.
Quarantine and Sanitize Astronauts, Spaceship, and Mars Rock Samples
In 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that the space agency is aiming to send humans on Mars as early as 2035. Although this is exciting news, the possibility that the space-faring heroes could return from the mission carrying alien viruses can be harmful to Earth.
In an interview with Stanford News, Hubbard remarked that the chance that rocks from Mars that are million years old will contain an active life form that can contaminate Earth is extremely low. However, samples from Mars will be quarantined and treated as if they are the Ebola virus until they are proven safe.
Previous Mars missions, such as the Viking I and II in during the 1970s, used large budget rockets that we're sterilized using just intense heat. But since rockets today are being developed at a low cost in both universities and companies, such as SpaceX, the cost of the planetary protection will burden them.
Hubbard notes that combining the heat process with chemical cleaning may be effective in decontaminating the technology, as heat alone may not be enough to do that.
NASA is planning to expose the tubes that return with the samples aboard the upcoming Mars 2020 mission - which is sending the space agency's Perseverance Rover - at a high temperature before staff can interact with them.
There is a significant effort to break the chain of contact between the returning spacecraft and Mars rock samples to guard against contamination, said Hubbard. Plans for autonomous sealing and welding techniques to create three or four levels of containment are also considered.
Moreover, he also said that although rock samples from Mars do not contain any life form that could infect Earth, they should be treated as though they are the Ebola virus. As for the astronauts, he suggested that they should also undergo quarantine to ensure they do not have any signs of illness.
Planetary Protection to Avoid Contamination
Experts are also concerned that the Mars mission could contaminate the red planet because of humans spreading their germs. But scientists suggest that human microbes will initiate terraforming Mars and create an environment that can sustain life.
The scientists want to create a procedure in screening microbes and discarding dangerous ones before sending humans to Mars, but a significant argument on doing that is a 'near impossibility.'
Experts noted that more research is needed before humans start polluting other worlds. The idea of protecting celestial bodies dates back in the 1950s, recommending that protocols that protect space from Earthly microbes shall be imposed.
Its argument is the same as how a crime scene can be compromised if someone not involved touches the evidence. Although sterilization has been around for decades, experts believe that it is inevitable for Earthly microbes to make it to Mars.