- NASA may have contaminated Mars with life, according to an Ivy League scientist.
- Life discovered on the Red Planet might have “originated in NASA labs,” said Christopher Mason.
- Microbes can wreak havoc when they arrive at a new ecosystem, he wrote in a BBC article.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
As explorations on the Red Planet continue, a Cornell scientist questioned whether life discovered on Mars might have actually “originated on Earth in NASA labs,” The Hill reported.
Christopher Mason, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, said such a scenario could have occurred despite rigorous cleaning processes and spacecraft assembly in specialized rooms.
Mason wrote in depth about the subject in an article for the BBC. Spacecraft, like NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, are built in thoroughly sterilized rooms — with air filters and strict biological procedures — one layer at a time, with all equipment cleaned before it is added to the machine, he explained.
These methods restrict bacteria, viruses, or fungi on machinery to be sent on a mission.
“But, it is almost impossible to get to zero biomass on a spacecraft,” wrote Mason. “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 through even the cleanest of clean rooms.”
“It turns out that clean rooms might serve as an evolutionary selection process for the hardiest bugs that then may have a greater chance of surviving a journey to Mars,” he wrote.
Clean rooms at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory pose the greatest risk as evidence of microbes with greater resistance against radiation and cold environments have been found.
Mason added that if these microbes appear on Mars, it would cause what researchers refer to as “forward contamination,” which is when humanity might bring something from one planet to another, intentionally or unintentionally.
He warned that the microbes can “wreak havoc” when they arrive at a new ecosystem and that they may also pose detrimental threats to astronaut’s health.
Perseverance landed on Mars in February and began looking for signs that might indicate ancient life on the Red Planet.
NASA said it has been taking extra precautions to ensure all samples returned from Mars will be safely contained. Scientists, however, are aware that tests may need to be conducted to ensure findings are Martian in origin.