London: It may take decades before astronauts could set foot on Mars, but scientists have warned that humans could be a danger to the planet’s native if they land on it.
They say a swarming mass of 100 trillion microbes will travel with every astronaut who may land on Mars.
And while those microbes have evolved over thousands of years to help people do everything from digesting their food to keeping bacteria from killing us, no one knows how they might interact with the Martian environment.
“We have the responsibility to Mars, I think — even if it’s just Martian microbes — not to kill them by the act of detecting them,” the Daily Mail quoted Cynthia Phillips of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute as saying.
“If you have human astronauts there. There’s no way to sterilize them. They’re spewing out thousands of microbes every second. So it’s a real problem,” Phillips added.
Even if a man on Mars is decades away, at best, space agencies are already thinking about ways to minimize contamination risks.
The Committee on Space Research even established a protocol in 2008, aiming to protect Earth from any contamination from Mars and vise versa.
The plan also advises avoiding gullies, potentially geothermal sites, and any other region where Earth life could survive.
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the private spaceflight firm SpaceX, has said he hopes to fly astronauts to Mars within 15 years and Dutch company Mars One wants to put four people on the planet in 2023 as the first steps towards establishing a permanent colony.
Mars One wants to pay for that flight by staging a reality-show around it.
Under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, countries can be held responsible for interplanetary activities of private businesses within their borders, and could be taken to international court on charges of contaminating another planet.
“It’s the environmentally responsible thing to do,” said Cassie Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer.
“If you want to be a good citizen of the solar system, you do the planetary protection requirements, just like you pick up the litter and you don’t spread your pollution all over the countryside,” she added.