… Russia is also dispatching on the flight the “world’s hardiest” or “toughest” organisms found here on Earth, sealed up in a bio-container for the Earth-to-Mars/Mars to Earth three year trek. The bio-module will provide 30 small tubes for individual microbe samples.
Turns out that The Planetary Society is at the root of this “hardy boys go to Mars” saga – dubbed LIFE, short for Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment.
LIFE is intended to help better understand the nature of life, its robustness, and its ability – or not – to move between planets. The journey will be a test of one facet of the “transpermia” hypothesis. That is, the possibility that life can voyage from planet to planet inside rocks blasted off one planetary surface by impact, to land on another planetary surface.
I guess what set off my buzzer was lobbing organisms toward Mars, on purpose, given that lots of effort – and money – is involved in preventing hitchhiking microbes from Earth making it to the red planet in the first place.
It is called forward contamination.
Under The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, planetary protection policies are in place to prevent cross contamination between planets – avoiding both forward contamination on outbound spacecraft, and back contamination of Earth upon return. For this mission, it’s the possibility of forward contamination that raises concerns.
So I shot an email over to Lou Friedman, he’s the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, asking him to allay concerns about forward contamination.
“I guess the most important thing I can say to ‘allay concerns’ is that…us and the Russians with whom we are working with are committed to observing the international protocols and agreements concerning planetary protection,” he told SPACE.com.
“The main point is the product of probabilities of this experiment even entering Mars, let alone breaking up and then dispersing organisms in a way that they could survive on Mars is incredibly small – orders of magnitude less than the minimum allowed in the international science protocols,” Friedman advised….