Author Topic: Mars 2020/Curiosity and planetary protection  (Read 539 times)

Offline Blackstar

  • Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 10720
  • Liked: 2250
  • Likes Given: 1
Mars 2020/Curiosity and planetary protection
« on: 08/04/2017 06:38 PM »
A good discussion of the current issues:


http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/planetary-protection-office-grabs-scientists-rail-against-limits-mars-exploration



With planetary protection office up for grabs, scientists rail against limits to Mars exploration

By Paul VoosenAug. 3, 2017 , 2:00 PM

Since its arrival on Mars in 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has zapped and drilled ancient rocks in the hopes of finding evidence for past life. But it may never get a chance to investigate something far more exciting: the possibility that martian microbes exist today. In the coming years, as the rover trundles up the side of Aeolis Mons, it will pass rocks that, seen from orbit, seem to host mysteriously intermittent dark streaks—perhaps marking seasonal water seeps. But NASA’s planetary protection office, charged with keeping earthly microbes from colonizing other bodies, has said it may nix a visit. It fears that Curiosity could contaminate this so-called special region because the rover was not fully sterilized before launch.

To Alberto Fairén, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, that makes no sense. Sooner or later humans—biped rovers that can’t be sterilized—will set foot on the planet, hopelessly confounding any hope of finding indigenous life, he and several colleagues argue in an op-ed in press this month in the journal Astrobiology. “We need to investigate Mars’s special regions carefully and fully prior to human missions,” he says.

Bureaucratic changes at NASA could create an opening for his view, which some Curiosity team members share. In July, NASA announced, through a blunt job posting, that the planetary protection office was moving out of its longtime home in the science directorate to NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance in Washington, D.C., a place more accustomed to translating protocols into engineering practice. Cassie Conley, the planetary protection office’s longtime chief, will face competition to keep her job, and she could be replaced by someone with less strict views on sterilization requirements. Meanwhile, by the end of this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are expected to complete a head-to-toe examination of how the office works and whether it keeps abreast with current science, and later this year NASA is holding a major workshop that could lead to a redefinition of special regions on Mars, the warm and wet areas that are off-limits for all but the most sterile of spacecraft.

Offline Vultur

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1079
  • Liked: 147
  • Likes Given: 11
Re: Mars 2020/Curiosity and planetary protection
« Reply #1 on: 08/09/2017 03:51 AM »
IMO these concerns are long out of date.

Modern technology -- metagenomics -- allows us to distinguish between Earth life and alien life.

If its DNA is recognizable, it's contamination. If it doesn't have DNA, or its DNA falls outside Earth's tree of life, it's native life (or transferred by meteors in an early era of the Solar System).

Contamination will not "hopelessly [confound] any hope of finding indigenous life". Curiosity's or Mars 2020's instruments may not be able to tell the difference, but current technology is entirely capable of making the distinction.

Offline Lar

  • Fan boy at large
  • Global Moderator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7976
  • Saw Gemini live on TV
  • A large LEGO storage facility ... in Michigan
  • Liked: 4776
  • Likes Given: 3230
Re: Mars 2020/Curiosity and planetary protection
« Reply #2 on: 08/09/2017 04:23 AM »
I think life evolved here, and if it evolved elsewhere it was independent. But that's a belief. Assuming that all DNA can be categorized as contamination or not is perhaps a bit of folly. If all that can be found are fragments, it's not for sure they are or aren't brought from modern times earth.

I consider the "earth life was seeded from elsewhere" theory REALLY remote. But am not willing to rule it out entirely absent evidence.

And yet I still think that Curiousity should go investigate this wet area.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Star One

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7490
  • UK
  • Liked: 1203
  • Likes Given: 168
Re: Mars 2020/Curiosity and planetary protection
« Reply #3 on: 08/09/2017 08:08 AM »
I think life evolved here, and if it evolved elsewhere it was independent. But that's a belief. Assuming that all DNA can be categorized as contamination or not is perhaps a bit of folly. If all that can be found are fragments, it's not for sure they are or aren't brought from modern times earth.

I consider the "earth life was seeded from elsewhere" theory REALLY remote. But am not willing to rule it out entirely absent evidence.

And yet I still think that Curiousity should go investigate this wet area.

I think it's more likely that if life started on Mars it could have either seeded Earth or vice a versa. The two planets exchange so much material that this likelihood must be considered reasonable high that if life occurred Mars that both planets have a common origin.

Tags: