Washington: Scientists behind Mars rover Curiosity are crossing their fingers that the rover does not discover Martian water because they fear that it may pollute the red planet.
The rover, which is looking for evidence of life on Mars, comes equipped with a drill to dig into Martian rock and hopefully unearth signs of ancient life.
And what NASA fear is that microbes from Earth may still cling to the drill and could potentially survive in Martian water, thus contaminating the planet, CBS News reported.
Initial plans for Mars rover Curiosity were to have all parts of the robot sterilized and sealed prior to launch to ensure that this exact scenario would not happen.
Drill bits for Curiosity’s robotic arm were to be locked in a box to be opened only after the rover landed on Mars. But engineers grew concerned that the drill bits might be damaged in landing, and removed one of the drill bits from storage to attach to the rover, resulting in Earthly microbes attaching to its surface.
While it may seem unlikely for Earthly organisms to survive the interplanetary trip to Mars, scientists estimate that as many as 250,000 bacterial spores may have survived the journey.
NASA’s plan for now is to avoid any contact with ice or water on the surface.
This can also explain why Mars’ Gale Crater was chosen as the landing spot for Curiosity. The crater is extremely dry.
If Curiosity does encounter Martian water, NASA will most likely play it better safe than sorry.
“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,’” former Planetary Protection Officer John D. Rummel told the Los Angeles Times.
First Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 18:33