MessageToEagle.com - "Planetary protection policies aim to guard Solar System bodies from biological
contamination from spacecraft," according to researchers.
"Costly efforts to sterilize Mars spacecraft need to be re-evaluated, as they are unnecessarily inhibiting a
more ambitious agenda to search for extant life on Mars," researchers write
in their paper.
"Environmental restrictions have become unnecessarily restrictive and expensive - on Mars."
NASA Office of Planetary Protection’s "detailed and expensive” efforts to keep Earth microorganisms off Mars
are making missions to search for life on the red planet "unviable,” say astrobiologists Alberto Fairén
of Cornell University and Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University.
The researchers claim "the protocols and policies of planetary protection are unnecessarily restricting Mars
exploration and need to be revised.”
The Office of Planetary Protection is like an interplanetary Environmental Protection Agency, with a mission "to minimize
the biological contamination that may result from exploring the solar system.”
As far as Mars is concerned, say Fairén and Schulze-Makuch, such efforts are probably in vain since "Earth life has most
likely already been transferred to Mars.” Meteorite impacts have had 3.8 billion years to spread Earth life forms to Mars.
Several Earth spacecraft have visited Mars without undergoing the sterilization procedures now in place.
If organisms transferred to Mars over the eons failed to survive, modern organisms would likely face the same fate. If they
did survive, say Fairén and Schulze-Makuch, "it is too late to protect Mars from terrestrial life, and we can safely relax
the planetary protection policies.”
The researchers say spacecraft looking for life on Mars should still be cleaned to some extent to avoid confusing possible
Martian organisms with organisms brought from Earth. But sterilization for other missions, like orbiters and
geology-oriented explorers, could be scaled back.
"As planetary exploration faces drastic budget cuts globally,” they say, "it is critical to avoid unnecessary
expenses and reroute the limited taxpayers’ money to missions that can have the greatest impact on planetary
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