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Rock samples from Mars: danger to Earth?

Rock samples from Mars: danger to Earth?

The persevering Mars rover will also take samples of rocks on the red planet, which will then be sent back to Earth. But is this really a good idea?

When the people den Perseverance Marsrover Sent to Mars, she also pursued the goal of having a small robot take rock samples from the surface of the alien planet. At the end of this decade, the samples are set to return to Earth in the “Return Mars Sample” mission, in which ESA and NASA are also participating. It is this task that worries the experts. It is about the future of our planet and the potential dangers imported from orbit.

The first space capsule with soil and rock samples from the surface of Mars is to land in the Utah desert and from there it is brought directly to the laboratory. The laboratory contains biosafety level IV, which is the highest level currently available of biosafety. In such laboratories, pathogens such as the Ebola virus are usually examined.

But what appears safe at first also carries risks. Nobody knows what will be in the samples. If there were signs of fossil life millions of years old, there could also be potential pathogens in the rocks – pathogens from Mars, against which we probably wouldn’t have protection. If the capsule is shattered upon collision in the desert, these pathogens can escape and contaminate wild animals, rivers and plants and thus endanger human life.

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Low likelihood, high cost

As stipulated in the United Nations Space Treaty, space travelers must avoid “adverse changes in the Earth’s environment resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter.” This statement is supported by ICAMSR, the International Committee against Return of Mars Samples. Therefore, the committee calls for soil samples to be examined from Mars either on the moon or in a laboratory in orbit.

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“We are supporting the mission to return a sample from Mars as part of the Lunar Gateway space station when samples are brought into a specially designed biological investigation unit in lunar orbit or are part of a larger lunar base concept as envisioned in NASA’s Artemis program,” said Barry Degregorio. Corresponding ICAMSR Director new world. “This is the only way to ensure that the Earth’s biosphere is 100 percent protected.”

Nevertheless, NASA and ESA continue to insist on analyzing samples on the ground, because operating a complex biological laboratory in space will create enormous costs and difficulties. According to Esa, the risk of an unsterile Martian particle penetrating the Earth’s biosphere is one in a million.

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