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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Martian Life a Threat

A threat?
A threat?
Credit: NASA
(CNN) - NASA faces a dilemma in planning to send people to Mars: The scientific desire to search for life there versus the need to prevent any such life from endangering the astronauts or the Earth.

The National Research Council is recommending that safety take precedence and that missions to the red planet try to avoid encountering any possible life forms there.

"While the threat to Earth's ecosystem from the release of Martian biological agents is very low, the risk of harmful effects is not zero and cannot be ignored," the council said in a report released Wednesday.

The NRC urged NASA to establish "zones of minimal biological risk" by sending automated probes to test for organic chemicals or other life forms.

Astronauts could then be sent to areas with the lowest possible risk of encountering life that might either pose a threat to them or to Earth if it returned with them.

And in an additional step to avoid bringing back contamination, the study said, the returning spacecraft might have to be abandoned in space with the astronauts transferred to another vehicle to get back to Earth.

Similar precautions were taken during the Apollo missions to the moon. These procedures failed to provide adequate security. Luckily no organisms were found on the moon. However, the risk to the Earth is in my opinion outweighed by the scientific gain that could be had by looking for microorganisms on Mars, instead of avoiding them. It is obvious that some precautions must be taken, as bacteria from Mars may be close enough to Terran bacteria to cause us harm or compete with Earthly organisms, but avoiding them is clearly not the answer.

(More info:

- posted by Brian @ 19:37 EST