If you somehow haven’t apprehend or watched War of the Worlds, here’s a addle-brain alert. The Martians are brought bottomward by the accepted cold. You can altercate if conflicting analysis would be affected to animal pathogens, but if they were, it wouldn’t be hasty if aliens had little aegis adjoin our bugs. The awkward allotment of that is the reverse. Could an astronaut or a amplitude delving accompany aback article that would annihilate the Earth with some disease? This is not science fiction, it is both a historically austere catechism and one we’ll face in the a future. If we accelerate bodies to Mars are they action to appear aback with article harmful?
What got me cerebration about this was the ascent affirmation that there could be action on Mars. Not a little blooming man with a afterlife ray, but conceivably microbe-like action forms. In a contempo columnist release, NASA appear that they not alone begin old amoebic actual in rocks, but they additionally begin that methane gas is present on Mars and the bulk varies based on the division with added methane occurring in the summer months. There’s some altercation about accessible asleep affidavit for this, but it is at atomic accessible that the aberration is due to added biological action during the summer.
These aren’t the aboriginal abeyant signs of action on Mars, either. In 1996, David McKay, Everett Gibson, and Kathie Thomas-Keprta from the Johnson Amplitude Center appear they had begin microbial fossils in a allotment of meteorite that originated on Mars (see picture, below). The accurate association came up with a lot of addition explanations, but to this day we don’t apperceive absolutely if it is affirmation of Martian action or aloof an asleep process.
So far, there’s annihilation absolutely awkward about Martian bacilli because they are far away. But we accept had acquaintance with one added exoteric anatomy already: the moon. If you anticipate the moon landing was fake, you’ve acutely abstract the adeptness of the government to accumulate a secret. In 1969, two astronauts who had absolved on the moon alternate to Earth. Would they go bottomward in history as modern-day typhoid Mary’s?
There was a actual low adventitious that the moon harbored any array of alarming microbes, but there was a chance. And the bulk to pay for actuality amiss could accept been actual high, so NASA erred on the ancillary of caution. That’s how the Mobile Apprehension Facility (MQF) came into being.
If you accept anytime apparent an Airstream trailer, you’d admit the MQF. It was a 35-foot bivouac that had no auto but did accept an busy air clarification system. Once the Apollo abridged landed in the ocean, the accretion aggregation threw bottomward a apparel the aggregation put on until they were brought to USS Hornet area they were installed in the MQF.
Although 35 anxiety doesn’t complete actual big for three men, it was ample compared to the lunar abridged they’d been in. Actually, there were bristles men central — an architect and a doctor were closed in with the aggregation for the 65-hour ascertainment period. Carried by aeroplane and truck, the MQF fabricated its way to Pearl Harbor and afresh Houston. Once in Houston, the amplitude travelers were appear for two added weeks of a in the Lunar Receiving Lab.
The aforementioned action was in abode until Apollo 15. Of course, Apollo 13 didn’t ability the moon, so it didn’t use the MQF either. Looking aback on it, it seems about asinine that there was so abundant concern.
It ability assume asinine now, but aback afresh the argumentation was sound. Aboriginal and foremost, if there was any adventitious at all, you had to be sure. Actuality amiss would accept been adverse — possibly alike killing anybody on Earth. Second, this was a well-funded and highly-visible government activity so there was some political charge to attending alert and a lot of money accessible to do so.
Mars may be a altered story. NASA isn’t adjourned like it acclimated to be. Elon Musk’s aggregation may get there first, or maybe addition country will go. We are at a time aback bodies aren’t as accurate as they acclimated to be, in a lot of areas. Will we booty precautions adjoin a Martian plague?
Even if you anticipate built-in Martian action is not acceptable (or not acceptable to appetite to barbecue on bodies and added Earth creatures), there’s addition concern. In fact, it may be added acceptable and added acceptable to be deadly. It turns out that admitting NASA’s abhorrence to go out on a limb and say there is action on Mars, we apperceive that there is about absolutely some action on Mars. We apperceive that because we brought it there ourselves.
Every aircraft we accelerate to the red planet — or anywhere — will accept some bulk of Earth action aural it. The action alike has a name: advanced contamination. NASA has a all-embracing aegis administrator that ensures the Committee on Amplitude Analysis (COSPAR) standards are met. This all-embracing accepted requires that all amplitude exploring nations absolute the adventitious of contagion to 1 in 1,000 total. It alike goes as far as to admeasure that absolute to altered nations. The US is accustomed a 1 in 40,000 chance.
The antecedent Viking probes were broiled about sterile, but afterwards advertent the acrid ambiance on the Martian surface, approaching probes were accustomed added latitude. However, added contempo analysis has apparent that on Earth, bacilli can animate beneath some abhorrent conditions, so there is some likelihood we’ve already attenuated Mars.
Don’t anticipate the bacilli would survive the ride to Mars? Anticipate again. Experiments on the All-embracing Amplitude Station affirm that the charwoman done by NASA leaves alone the hardiest strains of bacilli and it appears that at atomic some could hide until they begin the appropriate altitude for life. In fact, beneath accepted COSPAR rules, if NASA’s Curiosity delving finds water, it can’t get a it because it is not apple-pie enough.
So there are absolutely two threats. Built-in Martian bacilli hitching a ride to Earth, or mutated Earth bacilli communicable a lift aback to their home planet. Either way could accept austere consequences. The aforementioned COSPAR accumulation that dictates how abounding bacilli you can booty to Mars and added planets additionally specifies how to apprehension things advancing back. The United States absolutely had the “Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law” at the time of the moon landings, but that was removed in 1991. So it isn’t bright if a clandestine article like Musk would be appropriate to chase any such procedure.
Of course, this is Hackaday, so what’s the hacker bend to all this? In my opinion, allotment of the botheration actuality is defining life. What’s animate and what’s not? Like Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, “I apperceive it aback I see it.” On Star Trek it was accessible to “scan” a planet and advertise you’d begin action forms. But what does that beggarly exactly? There accept been cases begin of asleep amount self-organizing. There are macromolecular systems that self-replicate. There is no affirmation that conflicting action would be based on the carbon allure we accessory with life.
A few decades of scientists haven’t ample that out yet. Maybe its time we took a able at it. How can you ascertain life? For safety, how abundant action do you charge to detect? Microbial life? Is it accessible that asleep action (e.g., silicon-based life) would not be adverse to people? Are we sure? Alike aloof free Earth-like action — finer over at atomic a abbreviate ambit — would be a abundant account to science. If you appetite some account on that topic, stop off at NASA’s astrobiology web site.
All the images in this column are from NASA, as you ability expect. If you appetite to see added about the MQF, Airstream has an absorbing video with a few centralized capacity of the facility’s construction. You can see that video, below.
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