NASA alien life warning: Have humans ALREADY contaminated other planets?


US space agency NASA has been exploring extraterrestrial areas for more than 60 years. And ever since its inception NASA has followed a strict set of rules to prevent contaminating other worlds. However NASA’s aim of proving the existence of alien life on planets such as Mars is at risk from the very probes searching from it, a NASA scientist has announced.

Professor Mark Schneegurt, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) explained the extreme lengths the space agency agency takes to avoid contaminating alien worlds.

We know we have brought organisms to Mars – there is no doubt about that

Professor Schneegurt

He told Express.co.uk: “NASA is always looking at its spacecraft and its components to work out how they can lower that bio-burden.”

NASA often bakes spacecraft at elevated temperatures or use chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide to kill the vast majority of microbes.

Their clean rooms, where spacecraft are assembled are very clean and dry, with filtered air, and everyone who enters them has to be covered up in a bodysuit to prevent skin cells and bacteria from contaminating the spacecraft.

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NASA alien life warning: The search for alien life could be hampered by contamination (Image: Getty)

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NASA alien life warning: The space agency follows a protocols to prevent contamination (Image: Getty)

But no matter how much testing and perpetration invariably there will be some microbes which will remain on some surfaces of the spacecraft and will end up tagging along for the ride.

And Professor Schneegurt has balance has to be struck between the high cleaning costs and mission success.

He said: “NASA is always determining where they are sending their craft and the chances of having anything growing there.

“NASA’s work ties-in with that by suggesting what the limits of life are.

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“By determining the limits of life, NASA is calculating how big a threat we pose to contaminating other worlds like Mars, Europa and other worlds they are sending spacecraft.”

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Some people unacquainted with the exploring space might question how humans could possibly contaminate space, given the inhospitable nature of outer space, but the NASA scientist explains why this is not the case.

He said: “Inhospitable is subjective. It might seem inhospitable to animals and other forms of life, but bacteria can live in remarkable places and under remarkable conditions that are very extreme.

“Certain animals are classed as extremophiles because they do very well in extreme environments – in fact some actually require extreme environments in order to grow most effectively.

“Typically, if we want to sterilise something for a medical operation, we would heat it up in an autoclave pressure cooker, where it will bring it up above the boiling point of water.

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NASA alien life warning: The Curiosity rover is currently exploring the Gale Crater (Image: NASA)

There are organisms on Earth that are not only survive, but grow best at these temperatures. They are rare but they are there.

“Our work includes growing organisms which will grow at -4C and there are some which will grow at -20C.”

There is no question that the issue of cross-contamination of alien worlds is a growing concern at NASA.

There are organisms on Earth that are not only survive, but grow best at these temperatures. They are rare but they are there.

“Our work includes growing organisms which will grow at -4C and there are some which will grow at -20C.”

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There is no question that the issue of cross-contamination of alien worlds is a growing concern at NASA.

And Professor Schneegurt agrees telling Express.co.uk, saying “When folks ask us whether there is life on Mars, we are fond of saying ‘yes, we are certain there is life on Mars’ – because we brought it!”

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“We know we have brought organisms to Mars – there is no doubt about that.

“The question is how many and where they are – are they near areas that we consider to be habitable.

“There are special regions on Mars we consider to be particularly habitable, where we think we may find water.

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NASA alien life warning: The 1976 Mars Viking landers were cleaner than many of today’s spacecraft (Image: NASA)

“So we are very careful about keeping spacecraft away from these regions, unless they have been very highly cleaned.

“All spacecraft are cleaned but there are certain classifications of craft that are cleaned better.

“The 1976 Mars Viking landers were cleaner than some of the spacecraft we have sent to Mars since.

“And the arm of the Phoenix land which touched the water ice on the North Pole of Mars was also extraordinary clean.”

Because of this NASA keeps spacecraft away areas which they think has the best chance of life.

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NASA alien life warning: Jupiter’s Moon Europa is likely place to find alien life (Image: NASA)

However, he believes “everything changes when we bring humans to Mars”.

He explained: “Humans are just microbial factories in some ways. We shed a lot of biological material and we have a lot of bacteria associated with us.

“We will get to a point where the environment on Mars gets less pristine and the search for alien life will become much more difficult.

“But right now we are restricted to very pristine environments and being very careful about what we are doing, because we recognise the scientific value of Mars and we don’t want to lose that.”

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Wichita State University’s Professor Schneegurt is among those at NASA who are increasingly convinced that alien life exists in the cosmos.

He said: “Personally I think there is native life on Mars as life is tenacious.

“There was a time in Mars’ history where we believe it was warmer and wetter and it had a much heavier atmosphere than it does now.

“There were much more Earth like conditions on Mars during its first billion years or so and that is a long time long enough for life to have originated and proliferated.

“What we know about life is that it is adaptable, and once it is there it will evolve to changing conditions, so if life was once there, I believe it still exists.

“The conditions which we believe were on early Mars were conducive to the origin of life.

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NASA alien life warning: The Phoenix land which touched water ice on Mars’ North Pole (Image: NASA)

“In fact, they might have been more conducive to the origins of life than the early conditions on Earth.

“Panspermia is the theory suggesting life can move from body to another and inoculate it.

“We have Mars rocks on Earth and there are Earth rocks on Mars and life could tag along with one of those meteorites, survive re-entry and still be viable.

“So far Earth is unique as it is the only system we know that has life on it, so it is hard to make generalisations about what conditions we need to have life originate, because we have only seen it once.

“That’s what makes looking at Mars, Europa and other places so important – if we can find second place where life originated it will tell us a whole lot more about the prevalence of life in the universe overall.”



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