While attention on Earth is focused on containing the new Coronavirus pandemic, a NASA researcher and ex-collaborator has expressed concern about the possible arrival of extraterrestrial virus stemming from growing interest in space exploration.
In the novel The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton, 1969), a United States government satellite crashes near the city of Piedmont, New Mexico, bringing with it a lethal alien microbe that quickly takes human victims and unleashes a scientists’ race to contain its spread.
And while the plot of the aforementioned novel is fictional, it explores a very real concern of space agencies and world governments: that astronauts or our emissary robots unintentionally contaminate our planet with extraterrestrial organisms or vice versa, that we contaminate other planets by visiting them.
It is an old fear that has now gained new relevance in the face of the COVID-19 era. This was recently recalled by Scott Hubbard, an adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University and former director of the NASA Ames Center.
“I have heard from some colleagues in the area of human space flight that they can see how, in the current environment, citizens could become more concerned about the arrival of some microbe, virus or extraterrestrial contamination,” he said.
Hubbard is a co-author of a report published last month by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, outlining the recent findings and making recommendations on “planetary protection” or “planetary quarantine” (safeguarding Earth and other worlds. of biological cross contamination).
In the paper, the professor discusses the long history of protecting the planet, the dilemma posed by Elon Musk’s launch of a Tesla Roadster into space, and precautions to be taken against possible contamination from the mission that will bring samples of Mars, slated to start next northern summer with the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Regarding the last point, Hubbard argues that combinations of chemical cleaning, heat sterilization, highly sterilizing space radiation, and intelligent mechanical systems, greatly minimize the possibility that the rocks of Mars contain some form of active life that could infect the planet.
However, he emphasizes that it is essential to quarantine the samples and treat them “as if they were the Ebola virus until they are shown to be completely safe.”
Contamination Of Astronauts From extraterrestrial virus
NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s. And in case these trips include a round-trip ticket for some of the first humans to leave their mark there, there will have to be well prepared.
“It should be remembered that the astronauts on the first Apollo lunar missions were quarantined to ensure they showed no signs of illness. Once it was discovered that the Moon was not a risk, the isolation was removed, “Hubbard explained, assuring that the same procedure” will be followed for humans returning from Mars. “
Source: Stanford News