Scientists at NASA estimate that there may be as many as 250,000 bacterial spores that could have survived both the journey to Mars and the landing.
This means that Curiosity risk contaminating Mars with Earth bacteria and could seed life on the Red Planet.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the possible contamination occurred six months before the rover's launch in November 2011.
Now scientists hope that Curiosity will not find water. Because if it does, "a controversy that has simmered at NASA for nearly a year will burst
into the open. Curiosity's drill bits may be contaminated with Earth microbes. If they are, and if those bits touch water, the organisms could survive."
Los Angeles Times reports that "the possible contamination of the drill bits occurred six months before the rover's launch last Nov. 26.
The bits had been sterilized inside a box to be opened only after Curiosity landed on Mars.
But that changed after engineers grew concerned that a rough landing could damage the rover and the drill mechanism.
They decided to open the box and mount one bit in the drill as a hedge to ensure success of one of the most promising scientific tools aboard Curiosity.
The drill is to bore into rocks looking for clues that life could have existed on the planet. Even if a damaged mechanism couldn't load a drill bit,
at least the rover would have one ready to go.
Under the agency's procedures, the box should not have been opened without knowledge of a NASA scientist who is responsible for guarding Mars
against contamination from Earth. But Planetary Protection Officer Catharine Conley wasn't consulted.
"They shouldn't have done it without telling me," she said. "It is not responsible for us not to follow our own rules."
Those rules required sterilization of any part of Curiosity that will touch the surface of the planet, including the drill bits and all six of the rover's wheels.
The precaution was taken to preserve the ability to explore water or ice - even if the chances of finding it were remote.
Conley, a microbiologist, said she learned about the unsealing of the box shortly before the launch. By then, it was too late to fix.
Other NASA officials said the decision to open the box of drill bits was a calculated risk.
"Water or ice near the surface in Gale Crater was not a significant probability," said David Lavery, program executive for solar
system exploration at NASA headquarters. "We weighed that against the risks of not having a bit mounted in the drill prior to launch, and
the specter of not being able to drill any holes at all on Mars."
"Of course, there is always a possibility that Mars will surprise us," Lavery said.
Curiosity could contaminate Mars with bacteria from Earth. Image credit: NASA
The box containing the bits was unsealed in a near-sterile environment, he said. Even so, the breach was enough to alter aspects
of the mission and open a rift at NASA between engineers and planetary protection officials.
"It will be a sad day for NASA if they do detect ice or water. That's because the Curiosity project will most likely be told,
'Gee, that's nice. Now turn around.'," Conley's predecessor at NASA, John D. Rummel, a professor of biology at East Carolina University said.
About 250,000 bacterial spores throughout Curiosity are assumed to have survived the landing, officials said. Nearly all of them
are believed to have perished within minutes of exposure to the harsh Martian conditions in Gale Crater - freezing temperatures,
intense ultraviolet radiation and an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide.
But scientists have learned in recent years that some Earth life forms can live in space and in at least some of the conditions
found on Mars.
Contaminating another planet is an ethical concern for scientists, as well as a practical one.
"We keep learning more and more about Mars and the amazing durability of life," said Bruce Betts, a spokesman for the Planetary
Society in Pasadena. "So wouldn't it be tragic if some future expedition were to discover life on Mars only to discover later that it had
actually discovered life from Earth?" "
Still, we must hope for a happy ending to this story and mission..
Extraterrestrial Life Is A Censored Subject Says Famous Professor
It is not often scientists are willing to openly discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
According to a famous astronomy professor there is a reason why a majority of scientists avoid the subject - it is censored!
Even though the general public embraces ideas of extraterrestrial life, science is expected to shun this subject no
matter how strong the evidence, albeit through a conspiracy of silence.