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Is there any life on Mars? Not if we destroy it with bad space hygiene | Mars

NA month later, three new spacecraft arrive Mars. Two represent the first for their countries of origin, while the third opens a new era of Mars exploration. The first is the United Arab Emirates Mars Mission, also known as Hope, which enters orbit on February 9th. Soon after, China’s Tianwen-1 has settled into the gravitational grip of the Red Planet, and in April, it will deploy a lander carrying a rover to the surface.

Both of these missions are pioneers for their country. If they succeed, their makers will join the United States, Russia, Europe and India in successfully sending spacecraft to Mars. However, it is the third mission that is set to grab most of the headlines.

On February 18, at around 8 PM GMT, NASA will attempt to land a vehicle the size of a car Determination In Jizero crater. It has a long list of scientific goals to work through. “We want to understand more fully how Mars was formed as a planet,” says Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London, part of the Science of Perseverance team.

On Earth, a continuous shift of the crust destroyed the first surface rocks that formed, but the oldest rocks on Mars have been preserved, so there is an unbroken record spanning more than four billion years. In addition to telling us the history of the planet’s formation, those primitive rocks could also contain clues about whether life began on the red planet.

However, what makes perseverance unique is that it is also the first part of an ambitious 10-year plan between NASA and European Space Agency (Isa) to bring Mars rocks to Earth around 2031.

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“Scientists really want rocks from Mars to return to Earth,” Gupta says. Samples can be analyzed more thoroughly on Earth than using the most advanced Mars rovers. And because laboratory technologies are constantly improving, they can continue to be examined year after year for new discoveries.

The value of the sample yield was demonstrated in the 1970s when analysis of moon rocks returned by Apollo astronauts altered our understanding of the history and composition of the solar system.

To replicate this success on Mars, Perseverance is equipped with more than 30 cans, in which the attractive-looking rocks will be loaded and then temporarily stored on the surface. If all goes well, a European Rover has been built in Airbus Defense and Space At Stevenage he will arrive on Mars in 2028 to collect the packs. It will be loaded into a NASA spacecraft known as Mars roverWhich will push them to an appointment with the European provider Earth Return Vehicle That will bring the samples back to Earth.

While the moon specimens in the 1970s were from an arid world, Mars could one day have been a habitable planet. So the main investigations will include searching for evidence of past lives – or perhaps the present – and this is an entirely new ball game.

“If you spot signs of life on Mars, you want to know that this is life on Mars, right?” Casey Dreer, senior advocate and senior space policy advisor for the Planetary Society, a non-profit space defense organization based in Pasadena, California, says: Accidentally discovering the E coli bacteria that has stuck to your spacecraft.

To keep scientific results as pure as possible, spacecraft and equipment are cleaned with chemical solvents or by heating.

“When building a mission to Mars, you have to apply these biological controls that go beyond what we usually use for the satellites that we build, for example, to observe the Earth,” says Gerhard Comenick, Planetary Protection Officer at the European Space Agency. He’s been working since 2004 to ensure that such precautions become Esa standard practice for anything that goes to Mars – including the Rosalind Franklin rover that will be launched in 2022 that carries life-detection equipment.

A Mars meteorite was discovered in Antarctica in 1984. Researchers claim to have found fossil evidence of organic matter in the rock.
A Mars meteorite was discovered in Antarctica in 1984. Researchers claim to have found fossil evidence of organic matter in the rock. Photo: David J Phillip / AP

From work for Rosalind Franklin, European airlines Airbus and Thales Alenia Void It now has biologically controlled research rooms to build an almost completely sterile spacecraft. “We are in a very good position,” says Kamenik, so much so that NASA sent a delegation late last year to visit the facilities and learn from them.

Quantique is also leading studies on the type of containment facility needed to hold Mars samples on Earth. Working with organizations such as Public Health England, Porton Down Laboratory and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Thales UK and Leicester University have built a prototype of a “double wall isolation room” under the ESA contract.

These precautions are known as planetary protection, which is divided into two components. Frontal pollution is the introduction of life on Earth into other worlds; Back pollution relates to the possibility of extraterrestrial life returning to Earth, no matter how far away, to escape to the biosphere.

Initially discussed in the 1950s in the run-up to the launch of the first satellite, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 satellite, the Cospar Committee issued the first guidelines for planetary protection in 1959. At that time, scientists believed that the system was Solarium is more habitable. “You read Arthur C. Clarke’s novels written in the 1950s that talk about indigenous Mars people and people don’t see it as absurd,” says Thomas Cheney, a lecturer in space management at the Open University.

This all changed in 1971, when Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around Mars. The photos I sent were realistic. There were no plants and no visible signs of life. In fact, there was not even an indication of a past life. “People were surprised by the appearance of the dead planet Mars,” Cheney says.

However, a closer investigation in recent decades has changed opinions once again. It is now thought that Mars could be habitable and that microbes may still cling to areas of the planet where there is liquid water. Planetary protection concerns mean spacecraft cannot go to these areas. Therefore, the life detection experiments cannot investigate the areas most likely to support life, and so most of them focus on searching for evidence of past life on Mars.

However, away from these purely realistic scientific issues, there is a larger debate brewing an ethical dimension. “It’s something I think is more important in some sense,” says Dreer. “It applies the lessons of terrible mistakes humans have made in terms of exploration in the past.”

Perhaps the most famous of these errors is the European colonization of Hawaii in the eighteenth century. Various diseases have destroyed the indigenous population due to the introduced bacteria and viruses. While there is no real chance of animal life on Mars, Dreyer believes that the same consideration should extend to bacteria. “If there is life out there, we don’t want to inadvertently introduce a competing form of life that could undermine or destroy it,” he says.

In fact, this concern has always been the basis of planetary protection guidelines, but its reemergence as a point of discussion is due to NASA And its partners are about to return humans to the moon. They also have ambitions to send astronauts to Mars sometime in 2030 and wherever humans go, pollution is sure to follow. We are – for lack of a better word – dropouts, even when we’re surrounded by space suits. There is no such thing as a perfect seal, so viruses and bacteria will constantly escape to extraterrestrial environments.

The way we are currently trying to minimize the impact is to say that all areas where water is potentially restricted, even for rovers that have been biologically disinfected like persistence. However, this will not work for human exploration, as water will be an essential resource for astronauts to drink and to make oxygen and rocket fuel. This “on-site resource use” is heavily written into everyone’s exploration plans.

On the face of it, planetary protection precludes the existence of a human exploration program and all the scientific exploration it could achieve. It would have spoiled the historic moon landing if anyone had thought about it too much. “The Apollo missions were totally impossible if someone tried to enforce planetary protection,” says Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, which advocates for human missions to Mars.

The first astronauts left “several hundred pounds of metabolic waste” on the moon. This includes 96 bags of stool, urine, vomit, and food waste. Aside from making the historic achievement of human exploration seem more like the effects of a student party, the point is that these waste products will contain more than 1,000 microbial species commonly found in the human gut.

Zbreen, who wrote it The state of mars Celebrating his 25th birthday in print, he believes planetary protection is overly cautious. It refers to a subset of meteorites naturally occurring on Earth that have been proven to come from Mars and that this must have happened since the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

One Mars meteorite in particular, ALH84001, sparked great interest in 1996 when a group of scientists claimed to have found microscopic fossils of Martian bacteria inside. Although this conclusion is still highly contested, part of the analysis showed that the meteorite was never exposed to temperatures above 40 ° C. “If they had contained microbes, they would have survived the flight, and billions of tons of these materials have traveled from Mars to Earth over the past four billion years,” Zubrin says.

In other words, if nature does not respect planetary protection protocols, then why should we?

NASA recently requested a report on planetary protection. Posted in October 2019, The Independent Review Board for Planetary Protection It recommended that different regions of a celestial body be classified in different ways. Previously, the Cospar rules for planetary protection applied to the celestial body as a whole. Now, certain areas can be protected while leaving others to be explored.

It is a temporary hiatus at best because areas rich in water needed to create permanent bases remain off-limits. To make progress, Cheney would like to see planetary protection become part of a broader discussion about space as an environment, so we can set our priorities for space exploration.

“It’s not just a place where you can do anything you want. He says,“ What you do has consequences. ”He refers to space debris as something that could be brought up in a broader discussion of protecting the space environment.

There is no time to lose. Cospar’s Planetary Protection Guidelines are not part of international law, so while its recommendations are written into the fabric of NASA, the European Space Agency and other major space agencies, nothing is stopping the burgeoning private space sector from sending anything it wants into space. As evidenced by the mission fleet reaching Mars, the Red Planet is not as far away as it once seemed.

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