We’re finally getting ready to invade Mars. Unfortunately, it would cost a bit too much to send actual soldiers, so we’ll start with something smaller.

NASA is facing scrutiny after reports that a rover bound for Mars may have skipped a key procedure tasked with preventing biological contamination from Earth to Mars.

While each and every NASA spacecraft sent to other planets must undergo meticulous procedures to make sure they do not carry biological contamination from Earth to their destinations, reports emerging from various news organization find that the latest mission to Mars may have skipped a crucial procedure that, at the very worst, would present the planet with terrestrial biology.

The issue reportedly involves a set of drill bits carried by the Curiosity rover, which launched November 26 to Mars. Project developers working in coordination with NASA made an internal decision not to send the equipment through a final ultra-cleaning step, a move that represents a significant deviation from the planetary protection plans scripted for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

I understand, at least in theory, why these rules are in place and have been so for a very long time. (We actually crashed the Galileo probe into Jupiter in 2007 to avoid the risk of it hitting and potentially contaminating one of the moons where we believe there is water, and possibly life.) If one of the reasons we’re searching Mars is to discover if there is – or was – life on the red planet, we also don’t want to wind up discovering life that we brought there.

But maybe it’s time to get away from these rules and head in exactly the other direction. What ever happened to the idea of terraforming? Shouldn’t we be getting a head start on growing some moss or pond scum or something on Mars to begin building up an atmosphere there for future colonization? We can’t wait for Schwarzenegger to do everything for us.