What can the coronavirus outbreak teach us about bringing Mars samples back to Earth?
SARS-COV-2 is a new coronavirus that causes an epidemic of the disease called COVID-19 .
Public health groups such as the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still learning the virus. It monitors the disease it causes and explores potential ways to stop it.
But I came to my mind because I was that I was Mars. It has been in the vision of the science fiction world for a long time to bring something out of space.
These can carry dangerous organisms in Earth’s fragile biosphere! Such arrivals may be incidental or purposeful.
Donald Trump’s budget request for NASA
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s budget demand for NASA supports the development of the Mars model return mission. This mission includes a robotic program to take back goods from the Red Planet.
What if these examples emerge dangerously and contagiously?
Are there some lessons for Mars that can be learned from COVID-19 and other important infectious diseases?
In 1973, Carl Sagan published his book “Cosmic Connection – An Extraterrestrial View” , which presented this view of Mars pathogens :
“Absolutely, Mars has great biological potential. There may be pathogens and organisms that can cause enormous biological damage if it is transported to Earth in Mars – in the War of the Worlds book of HG Wells there is a plague pandemic plot.
This would be an extremely severe situation. We can say that Martian organisms cannot cause serious problems in Earth organisms. Because there is no biological contact between Martian and Earth organisms for 4.5 billion years.
On the other hand, we can equally argue that Earthly organisms have developed no defense against potential Mars pathogens. Because there was no such contact for exactly 4.5 billion years, the possibility of such an infection was very small, but it could be very dangerous if contact occurs.
Worry and ignorance
What can happen if such an infection occurs?
“I think it might be instructive to think about the climate of concern that accompanies the coronavirus together with the coronavirus,” said John Rummel, senior scientist at the SETI Institute in California , as well as NASA’s planetary protection officer between 1986-1993 and 1997-2006.
For example, the current diagnostic tests currently used for coronavirus are not entirely accurate, and it may take more than a week after infection to develop symptoms. And the spread of a world infection, limited by seasonal change, may not apply to a foreign disease.
“I think that the mission of not bringing back samples from Mars should be clear about the measures taken against ignorance,” said Rummel, “we must admit that we are ignorant when we talk about life on Mars.”
Rummel said that scientists have varied differences in thought about taking Mars samples to our planet. A planned, precautionary approach based on strict storage and testing for biohazards coincides with the potential to discover life in a sample or elsewhere on Mars, as it will allow a sample to be returned.
“If a person comes to life in the example, he has a good chance of studying it in the environment,” said Rummel. He said and continued: “The disadvantage of this approach is that it is more expensive [in terms of establishing the containment facility] than ignoring life on Mars.”
As stated in the recent report from the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board to NASA, this approach requires the development of a sample processing facility dedicated to analyzing and testing Mars samples.
Rummel said that if something like the coronavirus situation arises, another containment facility may not be found on time and cannot meet the cleaning requirements that would allow any organism in the sample to come from Mars.
Catharine Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer from 2006 to November 2017 ;
“As with past infectious disease outbreaks, the currently spreading coronavirus is another example of why it’s so important to understand the consequences of interacting with environments where people rarely come in contact,” he said.
“In the case of Mars exploration, it is possible that Earth organisms that moved to Mars would be a problem on Mars for future creatures,” Conley said. Said.
“If there is life on Mars and brought to Earth, it will have more environmental impacts, like the new algae species that have recently appeared in Greenland with the melting of glaciers,” he said.
However, if Mars life is about earthly life, Conley said, “This makes it much more difficult to distinguish from Earth contamination – and it is also more likely to affect us, as well as mutated diseases.”