Should Mars be treated like a wildlife preserve?
Life has not yet been found on Mars, and no one is sure whether it will be. But some researchers say it is not too early to consider the possibility that humans could do irreversible damage to indigenous Martian life.
A group of international experts will meet as early as this September to discuss whether it is time to revise policies that protect Mars from contamination.
At issue is the ethics of exploring the Red Planet – in particular whether hitchhiking Earth microbes could harm Martian habitats.
Past missions, including NASA’s twin rovers, have already ferried hundreds of thousands of bacterial cells to the Red Planet. Most of the microbes on the exterior of these craft were quickly destroyed by intense ultraviolet radiation, which passes easily through Mars’s thin atmosphere.
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