Friday, February 06, 2009

Regulating Life on Other Planets

TIME asks "Are We Bringing Our Germs to Mars?", and reveals that we have at least a hint of environmental regulations for other planets:
But beyond the broad language of the Outer Space Treaty, we don't really have set guidelines for how we should treat microbial life on another planet, should we run across it.
But there are efforts to fix that:
That's why NASA planetary scientist Christopher McKay, in an article in this week's Science, suggests the need for a stronger policy that ensures all exploration of Mars be "biologically reversible" — meaning we would be required to effectively wipe away our footprints and remove any possibility of contamination, by leaving behind nothing that could foster alien microbial growth. Such a policy would be especially necessary if we discover that life on Mars has emerged independently from life on Earth — what McKay calls a "second genesis" (as opposed to Martian life that arose because of meteorites exchanged between Mars and a hospitable Earth, a condition in which the two planets would share a tree of life and contamination would be less of a concern). If there really were a second genesis on Mars, "contamination by even one Earth bacterium may be a serious issue of environmental ethics," McKay writes.
My first thought: "What a pointless thing to spend time working on!"
My second thought: "Congress should devote all their attention to working on this issue!"


Jason O said...

Maybe we can bailout the martians if we create a biological hazard for them or we can provide a technological stimulus by borrowing billions of dollars and then we can give it to them to do research and fix the problem WE (the people who went to the Mars) created without their consent.

Matt E. Ryan said...

Yes!! This is exactly what I'm talking about!! Spend time on Martian biological contamination issues.