Drill bits on rover could contaminate Mars

Sep 16, 2012 by Louis Sahagun
This artist's concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For all the hopes NASA has pinned on the rover it deposited on Mars last month, one wish has gone unspoken: Please don't find water.

Scientists don't believe they will. They chose the cold, dry equatorial landing site in ' Gale Crater for its , not its prospects for harboring water or ice, which exist elsewhere on the planet.

But if by chance the rover does find water, a that has simmered at for nearly a year will burst into the open. Curiosity's drill bits may be contaminated with . If they are, and if those bits touch water, the could survive.

The possible contamination of the drill bits occurred six months before the rover's launch last Nov. 26. The bits had been sterilized inside a box to be opened only after Curiosity landed on Mars.

But that changed after engineers grew concerned that a rough landing could damage the rover and the drill mechanism. They decided to open the box and mount one bit in the drill as a hedge to ensure success of one of the most promising aboard Curiosity. The drill is to bore into rocks looking for clues that life could have existed on the planet. Even if a damaged mechanism couldn't load a drill bit, at least the rover would have one ready to go.

Under the agency's procedures, the box should not have been opened without knowledge of a NASA scientist who is responsible for guarding Mars against contamination from Earth. But Officer Catharine Conley wasn't consulted.

"They shouldn't have done it without telling me," she said. "It is not responsible for us not to follow our own rules."

Those rules required of any part of Curiosity that will touch the surface of the planet, including the drill bits and all six of the rover's wheels. The precaution was taken to preserve the ability to explore water or ice - even if the chances of finding it were remote.

Conley, a , said she learned about the unsealing of the box shortly before the launch. By then, it was too late to fix.

Other NASA officials said the decision to open the box of drill bits was a calculated risk.

"Water or ice near the surface in Gale Crater was not a significant probability," said David Lavery, program executive for solar system exploration at NASA headquarters. "We weighed that against the risks of not having a bit mounted in the drill prior to , and the specter of not being able to drill any holes at all on Mars."

"Of course, there is always a possibility that Mars will surprise us," Lavery said.

The box containing the bits was unsealed in a near-sterile environment, he said. Even so, the breach was enough to alter aspects of the mission and open a rift at NASA between engineers and planetary protection officials.

Curiosity was first proposed in 2004 under a mission category that would have allowed it to explore a region with ice and water. That category called for sterilizing portions of the spacecraft that would contact the surface of Mars to avoid contamination of moist areas where microbes - from Earth or from Mars - have the best chances of survival.

On Nov. 1, after learning that the drill bit box had been opened, Conley said she had the mission reclassified to one in which Curiosity could touch the surface of Mars "as long as there is no ice or water."

Conley's predecessor at NASA, John D. Rummel, a professor of biology at East Carolina University, said, partly in jest: "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.' "

If water is found, Curiosity could still conduct tests from a distance with instruments including a laser and spectrometers.

About 250,000 bacterial spores throughout Curiosity are assumed to have survived the landing, officials said. Nearly all of them are believed to have perished within minutes of exposure to the harsh Martian conditions in Gale Crater - freezing temperatures, intense ultraviolet radiation and an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide.

But scientists have learned in recent years that some Earth life forms can live in space and in at least some of the conditions found on Mars. The European Space Agency discovered that lichens launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket in 2005 survived several days of full exposure to the vacuum of space and ultraviolet and cosmic radiation.

Just this year, Andrew Schuerger, a plant pathologist and expert on the survival of terrestrial microorganisms under Martian conditions, found a bacterium species capable of growing in conditions present on the surface of Mars, including air pressure of just seven millibars. Air pressure on Earth is 1,017 millibars at sea level.

NASA officials announced this week that one month into its two-year mission, Curiosity had made a scheduled pit stop while en route to Glenelg Intrigue, a tantalizing confluence of three types of terrain targeted for the first drilling experiment. The pause allows scientists to run tests on the mechanical joints of the rover's robotic arm and surface sampler, or scoop, and other instruments designed to help crack Mars' mysteries.

Sometime next month, NASA scientists are expected to select a rock at Glenelg Intrigue and bore into it with the drill, which will then transfer small samples of powder from the rock into science instruments housed in the belly of the rover. Conley has no concerns that the experiment will contaminate the site because she believes any surviving organisms will die swiftly.

Fear of microbial contamination of the Martian environment long ago moved NASA and a United Nations space advisory committee to divide the planet's surface into areas based on the probability of encountering ice and water. The group also recommended sterilizing spacecraft destined for areas with ice and water.

Contaminating another planet is an ethical concern for scientists, as well as a practical one.

"We keep learning more and more about Mars and the amazing durability of life," said Bruce Betts, a spokesman for the Planetary Society in Pasadena. "So wouldn't it be tragic if some future expedition were to discover life on Mars only to discover later that it had actually discovered life from Earth?"

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Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.5 / 5 (10) Sep 16, 2012
To be clear, no spacecraft is ever likely to be sterile at a landing. The purpose is to eliminate cross-contamination, especially if you have sensitive instruments looking for organics.

Some potential problems with the article:

- The drill set is 1 out of 3, I believe. The third set is likely the last backup, so a lot of water and ice work can be done by drills.

- The bacteria that grow "in conditions present on the surface of Mars" didn't do so under the whole set of conditions and especially the UV light.

These bacteria would have to survive as spores during interplanetary transportation, passively transfered to underground and then wakened before the oxidizing environment kills passive spores. (Most or all spores are indeed awakened by random wake up times, to maximize survival of the population.) Not a high likelihood pathway.
Telekinetic
1.3 / 5 (26) Sep 16, 2012
We have a long history of contaminating and spreading disease to pristine environs, like the kind that decimated Native American populations, in fact, deliberately. There may have been some sexism on the part of the drill installation team in neglecting to inform the Planetary Protection officer Conley, a woman, with the information; "Aahh, she'll just bitch and moan if we tell her." It happens in the corporate world all of the time, why not NASA? But if life is wiped out entirely on earth, maybe this contamination may prove fortuitous in a few eons, providing, of course, that the drill microbes aren't of STD origin.
VendicarD
3 / 5 (8) Sep 16, 2012
Somehow I think the Game show that is planning a suicide mission to Mars for a set of "winners" isn't giving any thought to earthly contamination.
Shootist
3.2 / 5 (16) Sep 16, 2012
Drill bits on rover could contaminate Mars


Will it change the science? No.

Then I don't care. At all. In fact, if I knew of a gas producing bacteria (don't care what gas) that would flourish in Martian conditions I'd support sending super tanker sized loads to Mars, right now.
Telekinetic
1.9 / 5 (25) Sep 16, 2012
Drill bits on rover could contaminate Mars


Will it change the science? No.

Then I don't care. At all. In fact, if I knew of a gas producing bacteria (don't care what gas) that would flourish in Martian conditions I'd support sending super tanker sized loads to Mars, right now.

Like a quote lifted from the film, "The Ugly American".
Jasonp
4 / 5 (2) Sep 16, 2012
Easy fix:
If they do find water, drop the drill bit from the drillhead and retrieve one of the other sterilised ones that remain in the box.
jonnyboy
1.3 / 5 (13) Sep 16, 2012
Drill bits on rover could contaminate Mars


Will it change the science? No.

Then I don't care. At all. In fact, if I knew of a gas producing bacteria (don't care what gas) that would flourish in Martian conditions I'd support sending super tanker sized loads to Mars, right now.

Like a quote lifted from the film, "The Ugly American".


jealousy will get you nowhere
Telekinetic
1.2 / 5 (21) Sep 16, 2012
Jealous of the most hare-brained scheme to produce gas to bring back to earth? That would make a gas made here from platinum seem cheap. You're the low man on the totem pole of intelligence on THIS forum, jonnyboy.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.9 / 5 (27) Sep 16, 2012
Indeed, earthlife could be blooming through water tables at this very moment from any of the landers and impactors already sent.

And so finding life on mars could be both good and bad news. If it is earth life at least we know that we can survive there, and we won't have to worry any more about contamination. And in a few hundred years the place will be teeming with earthlife anyway no matter what.
dusanmal
4.4 / 5 (9) Sep 16, 2012
@Telekinetic "...hare-brained scheme to produce gas to bring back to earth..." - most shortsighted and Earth bound interpretation of what @Shootist meant... Ideally, humans intent on spreading beyond Earth would wish to terraform every suitable place. ASAP. Gas production is not one to bring back and fill your tanks. Microbes that we should be intentionally sending to Mars are the ones who could thrive in current Mars climate and produce Oxygen, Nitrogen, CO2,... whatever. It is called evolution. Humans must use all their capabilities to conquer other eco-spheres and spread there. "Native Martian species" if any - good mental exercise, interesting to examine and keep in a Zoo of some form. Best for humans -convert Mars to our habitat ASAP.
Meyer
4.3 / 5 (6) Sep 16, 2012
"So wouldn't it be tragic if some future expedition were to discover life on Mars only to discover later that it had actually discovered life from Earth?"

I don't think it would be tragic. It would be pretty amazing, actually - especially if the organism flourished to the extent that it interfered with future missions on other parts of the planet. Though I would prefer to see at least one mission equipped to search for life before inoculating it with anything else.
rah
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 16, 2012
This is about the most stupid and contrived stories that could be imagined. The prospects of contaminating any water discovered is exactly zero.
ormondotvos
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 16, 2012
Ray was right.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (11) Sep 16, 2012
"And so finding life on mars could be both good and bad news. If it is earth life at least we know that we can survive there."-GhostofOtto1923

I'd much rather have something a bit more evolved like a canary in the "canary in a coal mine" scenario, rather than some e.coli from an engineer who didn't wash his hands before I take up residence on Mars.
Also, where's the Ghost we've grown to love? I detect a concessionary tone. Don't let these knuckleheads take the venom out of your sting.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (14) Sep 16, 2012
@Telekinetic "...hare-brained scheme to produce gas to bring back to earth..." - most shortsighted and Earth bound interpretation of what @Shootist meant... Ideally, humans intent on spreading beyond Earth would wish to terraform every suitable place. ASAP. Gas production is not one to bring back and fill your tanks. Microbes that we should be intentionally sending to Mars are the ones who could thrive in current Mars climate and produce Oxygen, Nitrogen, CO2,... whatever. It is called evolution. Humans must use all their capabilities to conquer other eco-spheres and spread there. "Native Martian species" if any - good mental exercise, interesting to examine and keep in a Zoo of some form. Best for humans -convert Mars to our habitat ASAP.

Read Shootist's text- "I don't care what gas". What does that even suggest? Cyanide?
paulcox100
5 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2012
I believe they have a laser on the rover for vapourising rock - I wonder if they could use that to sterilise the drill tip?
jibbles
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 16, 2012
2 things:
1) if we need to go to these lengths to keep mars uncontaminated, isn't it likely that mars is already contaminated by earth's bioshere? lawrence krauss seems to think so.

2) couldn't a drill bit be sterilized by drilling into that on-board rock sample, thereby heating it to a sufficient temperature to sterilize it?
NOM
not rated yet Sep 16, 2012
The drill bits would have been opened in a sterile room by people wearing sterile clothing. The chance of contamination is minimal, the chance of contamination by something that could survive on Mars is insignificant, though not zero.
geokstr
2.7 / 5 (21) Sep 16, 2012
We have a long history of contaminating and spreading disease to pristine environs, like the kind that decimated Native American populations, in fact, deliberately.


Nice agitprop. Wikipedia lists exactly one possible instance where smallpox may have been deliberately passed, and says it only affected a small area. There is even debate about that incident, as well.
http://en.wikiped...pidemics

If the Europeans brought the evil white man's diseases to the Gaia-loving peaceful Siberian-Americans (who were as warring, slave-owning and cannibalistic as anybody else), it was simply because back then nobody knew anything about microbes or viruses, how diseases spread, or how one group can have immunity because of prior exposure and another not.

Seems like that should have been a two way street. Is there any research on whether the Euros brought back diseases from the Americas? Probably not, might conflict with the narrative.

Telekinetic
1.4 / 5 (11) Sep 16, 2012
The drill bits would have been opened in a sterile room by people wearing sterile clothing. The chance of contamination is minimal, the chance of contamination by something that could survive on Mars is insignificant, though not zero.

The whole idea of not introducing foreign matter is to get accurate information on what is native to the planet- that's pure scientific procedure. It's like a crime scene where you're scattering junk from your pockets before the forensic team gets there- "Sorry, Captain, but the stuff I just tossed on the floor will probably have a minimal effect."
Sean_W
2.8 / 5 (9) Sep 16, 2012
Mars is no petri dish and it is hard enough to get most earth bacteria to grow in a petri dish--let alone an environment like mars. There are extremophiles on earth but they generally don't have their spores floating around non-extreme environments like NASA facilities.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (12) Sep 16, 2012
"There is at least one instance documented by many in which disease was proposed to be used as a weapon against Native American tribes."- Wiki reference by Geokstr

And you say Wiki lists exactly one instance. You're a dope. Read your own evidence first so I don't have to explain it to you.
Meyer
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2012
The whole idea of not introducing foreign matter is to get accurate information on what is native to the planet- that's pure scientific procedure. It's like a crime scene where you're scattering junk from your pockets before the forensic team gets there- "Sorry, Captain, but the stuff I just tossed on the floor will probably have a minimal effect."

Nobody is worried about a few spores compromising the science on this mission. The "planetary protection officer" is concerned about contaminating Mars itself if microbes survive and reproduce.
One could say the event would compromise a future mission, but it would also confirm that life *can* survive on other planets, which is scientifically useful in itself.
It shouldn't be too hard to tell the difference between a native Martian organism and one from Earth. The one with DNA identical to things on Earth is probably from Earth.
Jonseer
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2012
This is about the most stupid and contrived stories that could be imagined. The prospects of contaminating any water discovered is exactly zero.


Yep you said it, but they are actually concerned about this.

To me this is absurd anxiety, and a waste of time.
Nirgal
4.7 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2012
Suppose a contamination occurs. One of either two events will happen. Either the life will die off or it will grow, evolve, and adapt. If the latter happens then that will help us understand how life that derived on one planet can evolve and blossom on another. True, it seriously interferes with the ability to detect alien life, but it is not a waste of intellectual understanding if it does occur. We would learn so much more about how life from earth can prosper on another planet! I think that's fascinating. We should be saddened and thrilled at the same time. We would lose one scientific endeavor but gain another. We would learn how to grow life on another planet. I would like to know if life ever occurred on mars, but if a contamination occurs, so be it, let's make the best of it.
Sinister1811
1.4 / 5 (11) Sep 17, 2012
What are the chances though, that there are some extremely adaptable extremophiles hitching a ride on the rover, that could survive such a barren, dry, almost airless, irradiated environment, with sub-Antarctic temperatures? Even if they survived the ride to Mars, they'd probably be destroyed by the harsh Martian conditions anyway. I suppose if they don't find life on Mars, the very least they could say is that they've introduced life to Mars. That would be quite an achievement.
despinos
3.5 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2012
And what about the previous missions on Mars? How much crap from Earth lies already there that has not been deliberately decontaminated at all?
Osiris1
1 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2012
Let's see, those 25 x (10^4) [estimated] microbes/spores that shipped. Supposedly went to Mars and got killed within minutes of exposure to Martian surface conditions.......unquote! Now if these extremophiles survived the cold of space and direct unfiltered solar and other radiation for a long time....again in the cold of space.. less than minus 450 degrees fahrenheit, they are somehow gonna die in balmy (for them used to absolute zero and hard radiation) Martian conditions of, say minus a hundred at the lowest?! Somebody had to soak their foolish head in wet cement and let it dry to even attempt to say that with a straight face...and has to be a meth head on heroin or LSD to think any but a moron would believe it! Mars is 'contaminated' already. It is alive everywhere any and all the landers arrived and all the places they went.
Osiris1
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 17, 2012
To one guy's comment about Euros bringing back diseases from natives: Euros DID do the original foreign trade in the Americas. The Americans gave the Europeans Syphilis, and the Europeans gave the native Americans in America Gonorrhea! They also gave them influenze which was deadly to them. Of course the natives could have re-given the Euros the great plague, as its original reservoir was in North America whence it traveled to China in its first foreign trade venture in the 1200's, probably Admiral Song He's fleet, and probably why the Chinese Emperor burned his ships when they returned...they were Plague ships! Point is, Mars probably is alive with life, and this life will not have the same DNA signature unless we were colonized from Mars. Even then the Martian DNA will look different. We will know what is Mars life and what is ours. We did not have the tech for this a few decades ago.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2012
@ JasonP: They will most likely load another bit for the first drilling - less contamination.

@ jibbles: Good idea.

@ Osiris1: Zheng He, and it is an unverified hypothesis that any of the fleets visited the Americas. Instead you could blame the Vikings in the 10th century, that is a well tested hypothesis (L'Anse aux Meadows).

Okay, let us look at transpermia then:

""So wouldn't it be tragic if some future expedition were to discover life on Mars only to discover later that it had actually discovered life from Earth?""

We should be able to tell if it is a recent hitchhiker if we get hold of a population and sequence its DNA.

At the other end, people will like to look at inhabiting and possibly terraforming Mars soon. If commercials like SpaceX is successful, they set an upper limit for pristine astrobiology.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2012
[cont] "isn't it likely that mars is already contaminated by earth's bioshere? lawrence krauss seems to think so."

The hypervelocity impactor ejected mass transported from Earth to Mars every year is ~ 200 kg/y. In the other direction it is much less.

Due to rapid formation and the sterilizing Earth-Moon originating impact, Mars could have seeded Earth with life. However, if you run the numbers which I did after the Krauss interview, it comes out unlikely compared to the new hydrothermal vent abiogenesis theories.

Earth seeding Mars is less likely, mostly because an already established biosphere has a leg up on unadapted immigrants.

They would most likely consider such organics as lunch if some of their species would have an autotrophic or potentially heterotroph carbon uptake metabolism slightly more advanced than the minimum (carbon from CO2).

This is after all why in the context analogous abiogenesis doesn't happen again in an established biosphere.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2012
[cont] Then again there is a huge difference between the mature, oxygenated biosphere of Earth and any anaerobic martian crustal biosphere. Recent protein fold and carbon uptake metabolism work puts the domain divergence at around the oxygenation event.

The more extremophile traits of especially archaea would then likely have evolved late, as a consequence of ecological niche creation by energy considerations. (As archaea are low energy density and eukaryotes are high energy density specialists.)

But by that time few hypervelocity impactors, like the K-Pg impactor that originated the latest mass extinction, would hit Earth. It would be interesting to see mass transfer rates in that direction.

And as I have found in the analysis, it isn't especially illuminating outside of abiogenesis. We need data on how ecological immigrants rate. I don't have that, but IIRC only some generalists survive, and extremophiles are hardly generalists.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2012
"The hypervelocity impactor ejected mass transported from Earth to Mars". Switch Earth and Mars.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 17, 2012
Earth seeding Mars is less likely, mostly because an already established biosphere has a leg up on unadapted immigrants.

I agree with your comments but when we talk about seeding we also talk about 'landing on a place that hasn't yet got a biosphere at all'.
In that case even a very maladapted organism would become dominant.

If a biosphere already exists we should also not discount the possibility that the two biologies are totally incopatible (even as food) - e.g. because the two types of organisms have different chiralities (or wholy different chemistries). In that case also a maladapted species could survive/strive and be unmolested by local biology until one of them figures out a way to off the other.

While life of martian origin would be maladapted to life on Earth it would also be very hardy (given the harsh conditions on Mars)
RadiantThoughts
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 17, 2012
Once humans get there and are walking contamination vessels it wont matter anyway lol
TheKnowItAll
1.3 / 5 (6) Sep 17, 2012
Nothing better to talk about while more diagnostics are being performed? LOL too funny. Someone at NASA is having a panic attack? LOL. Lasers are able to kill any living organisms and I believe Curiosity has a quite powerful one onboard.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.9 / 5 (21) Sep 17, 2012
Once humans get there and are walking contamination vessels it wont matter anyway lol
Absolutely. The overriding Imperative is to establish independent colonies throughout the system as a matter of survival. We will want to learn as much about Martian life as we can, to assist in these survival efforts.

Our continued survival as a species and as a civilization takes precedence over any preexisting life that we may find. It was the same when euros planned the American invasions. American cultures presented a dire threat to the rest of the world and so they were destroyed in the most efficient way possible.

Our isolation now threatens us and this makes colonizing mars imperative. If not terraformed, it will be domesticated to suit, as was this planet.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2012
It shouldn't be too hard to tell the difference between a native Martian organism and one from Earth. The one with DNA identical to things on Earth is probably from Earth.


Not entirely true.

Supposing native Mars life does exist, Cross-contamination of DNA due to prions or something like that could be detrimental to science, becaue it could produce a "false positive" relationship between Mars life and Earth life, if native Mars life exists.

Further, if native Mars life does not exist, the Earth life contamination could ruin the negative proof, and yes, in this case "negative proof" to some degree is possible.

Having said all that, I still favor terraforming Mars, either entirely or through controlled environments, as soon as possible, if it ever is possible.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2012
Once humans get there and are walking contamination vessels it wont matter anyway lol


Yup, the second you get in a space suit and walk out, even on those vehicles they've designed where the suit is always outside, the port on the air lock, either way, will defeat you. Cross-contamination each way is unavoidable in a manned mission; from Earth vessel to Mars and from Mars to Earth vessel.

NOM
not rated yet Sep 17, 2012
Just looking in wikipedia at the "Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment" which was going to be sent to Phobos on the failed Phobos-Grunt probe.
One of the extremophile bacteria that was going to be tested was Bacillus safensis.
Bacillus safensis is a bacterium, highly resistant to gamma and UV radiation, that has raised some concerns over a possibility of having been brought to the planet Mars with the two space probes Spirit and Opportunity in 2004.

The bacterium is named after the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Spacecraft Assembly Facility (SAF) where it was first discovered.


So I stand corrected. The "clean room" isn't as sterile I thought.
Telekinetic
1.3 / 5 (12) Sep 17, 2012
Once humans get there and are walking contamination vessels it wont matter anyway lol
Absolutely. The overriding Imperative is to establish independent colonies throughout the system as a matter of survival. We will want to learn as much about Martian life as we can, to assist in these survival efforts.

Our continued survival as a species and as a civilization takes precedence over any preexisting life that we may find. It was the same when euros planned the American invasions. American cultures presented a dire threat to the rest of the world and so they were destroyed in the most efficient way possible.

Our isolation now threatens us and this makes colonizing mars imperative. If not terraformed, it will be domesticated to suit, as was this planet.

He's back with a vengeance- it's all been prearranged- EMPIRE!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (20) Sep 17, 2012
So I stand corrected. The "clean room" isn't as sterile I thought.
We can only study the microbes we can culture in the lab. And we can culture only 1% of what we assume is out there. So we in fact know very little about contamination.
http://www.youtub...je-3NrfM
He's back with a vengeance- it's all been prearranged- EMPIRE!
Aw I think you are being a little sarcastic...
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (7) Sep 17, 2012
Let it be known there's only one GhostofOtto1923- you're no milquetoast, a trait of natural selection, especially when it comes to survival on Physorg!
extinct
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 18, 2012
funniest headline I've ever heard: "Drill bits on rover could contaminate Mars"
because they forgot the 2nd half: "All Those Spare Parts From The Curiosity and Mars Science Laboratory That Plummeted And Smashed Into The Martian Surface In An Area Kilometers Across Did Not Contaminate Anything At All; Only The Drill Bits Might Contaminate Something. Hello! We Are phys dot org And We Are Willfully Ignorant."
88HUX88
5 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
well, regardless of contamination, if any bacteria survived the trip we could answer David Bowie's question with a resounding yes! (there is now).
Rocketplumber
5 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
Simple solution: Hold up the drill bit on the arm, exposing it to sunlight and cold for a few days. Then drill. [eyeroll]
antonima
not rated yet Sep 22, 2012
The problem is that this rovers doesn't have the instruments to detect DNA or anything that precise. Since we don't even know what 'life forms' we are looking for, it has to be a process with very broad detection criteria. Plausible analysis would be far more complicated by the possibility of contamination - we would have to first isolate the organisms from the substrate, and then run tests on them to see if they are terrestrial!! Any contamination ruins the possibility of making an exciting discovery since the rover is not equipped to do these things.
desotojohn
1 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2012
When man lands on Mars, standby for far more contaminates than a silly drill bit. We will never be able to terraform mars if we are worried about tiny contaminants.