Life on Mars. Non-martian edition

posted at 5:30 pm on December 4, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

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.

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Well, if you want pond scum I hear Barney Frank is looking for work.

Warner Todd Huston on December 4, 2011 at 5:39 PM

Send Obama.

OhioCoastie on December 4, 2011 at 5:40 PM

We’re going to find the remains of life on Mars. It’s inevitable. The reason is that over the last couple of billion years, several million tons of this planet has been dumped on that planet. The odds that none of it contained any biological material is remote in the extreme, although radiation will have broken some of it down.

At a conference I asked a paleontologist how we would be able to tell if biological material on Mars originated there or here, especially given the common patterns of consilience we find in different ecosystems here. He said that they have ways of figuring it out but didn’t give any details.

JS on December 4, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Terraforming? Good grief, the Greenies blow a gasket whenever we want to make the Earth more habitable to humans! Can you imagine the response if we wanted to continue such “crimes against nature” on another planet?

TREGONSEE on December 4, 2011 at 5:42 PM

TREGONSEE on December 4, 2011 at 5:42 PM

They`d probably go over there to turn a red planet blue. :)

ThePrez on December 4, 2011 at 5:48 PM

The ‘no life contamination’ rule sounds like a weird, nerdy hybrid of Star Trek’s leave-it-alone Prime Directive and the barely veiled hatred of humanity held by fringe environmentalists, who view the human race is a kind of viral blight, a chancre sore on the face of Mother Gaia.

Just spit-balling here, but it could be our purpose as a higher species is to propagate life wherever it isn’t. I say contaminate as much of the universe with life as we can, see what shakes out.

troyriser_gopftw on December 4, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Now that I think about it, what`s the point of NASA being so prissy about contamination? The universe is one big free for all, things flying all over, crashing, landing, etc. It`s not a static, sterile environment.

ThePrez on December 4, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Sheila Jackson Lee should know.

hawkdriver on December 4, 2011 at 5:49 PM

If Obama launches the invasion, he`ll run it for a few days and hand it off the the Europeans who`ll ask us to do most of the work and carry most of the cost.

ThePrez on December 4, 2011 at 5:58 PM

We’re not to the terraforming stage yet.
-
We are still in the ‘stand up, fall back down stage’… After we can walk, run, jump and chew gum at the same time… then we can think about terraforming.
-
It’s a big mistake to accidentally contaminate any other planet. Space Agencies need to maintain a higher standard or it will come back to bite us in the rear one day. Remember the Zebra Mussel, Japanese Beetle, and the Africanized Bee… just to name a few.
-

RalphyBoy on December 4, 2011 at 5:58 PM

I think the terraforming fantasies went out the door when they found that Venus was closer to being Hell than the near-twin of Earth that they thought.

backwoods conservative on December 4, 2011 at 5:59 PM

Send Obama.

OhioCoastie on December 4, 2011 at 5:40 PM

He’s already there.

Del Dolemonte on December 4, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Who says life is contamination? It’s one force that works against entropy.

flataffect on December 4, 2011 at 6:02 PM

What ever happened to the idea of terraforming?

In the abstract, terraforming sounds grand and glorious, but thinking that we could effect planned global-scale changes without making a total hash of it is, well, just laughable. Look at those climate alarmists who want us to commit to massive geo-engineering schemes. We can’t even identify all of the variables which combine to produce what we call climate, nor do we grasp how they all interact over geological time, and yet these fools want to shoot chemical compounds into the atmosphere, or shield the planet with orbiting sunshades or some such nonsense.

Why is that the smarter we get, the more lunatic our scientists seem to become?

martin.hale on December 4, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Any inadvertent biological invasion on our part may threaten whatever life may exist there. I think that is one of the chief concerns against any sort of terraforming big or small.

I don’t think this is an issue regarding places like the moon and the prospects of colonizing it.

Free Constitution on December 4, 2011 at 6:23 PM

atmosphere there for future colonization?

I’m for colonizing Mars as soon as possible, just get me the hell out of this place!

FloatingRock on December 4, 2011 at 6:26 PM

What does anything of this have to do with Muslim outreach…?

… Oh, wait!

Seven Percent Solution on December 4, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Mistakes were made……

roy_batty on December 4, 2011 at 6:27 PM

So we won`t be using the Genisis torpedo on Mars?

ThePrez on December 4, 2011 at 6:28 PM

Terraforming? Wasn’t that tried already on LV426?

50sGuy on December 4, 2011 at 6:34 PM

I’m thinking the problem is that their results will be contaminated. It’ll be hard for them to run to Congress and scream,”We just found life on Mars, now give us One Hundred billion dollars so we can study it!” if someone else stands up and says, “Hey, those microbes look just like the stuff we found on the back up drill bits here on Earth.”

trubble on December 4, 2011 at 6:37 PM

Umm…to whom would Gaia-worshippers send their regards on a non-Earth planet? Mother Mars?

James on December 4, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Why is that the smarter we get, the more lunatic our scientists seem to become?

martin.hale on December 4, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Not sure I buy the premise.

chemman on December 4, 2011 at 6:52 PM

The only reason to sterilize the craft is to make sure, that any signs of life found, are not brought in with the current craft. Simply a scientific approach to plan an experiment. The problem i see is that all this BS about looking for life on mars is basically a marketing ploy to get funding, it is much more interesting to find out how mars lost its atmosphere, or magnetic field and such, as opposed to sexy topics about water and life.

anikol on December 4, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Now that I think about it, what`s the point of NASA being so prissy about contamination?

ThePrez on December 4, 2011 at 5:49 PM

That’s their main weapon for begging for money from congress, to find life outside the Earth to they can teach those Bible thumpers who’s right.

If all the planets and moons get contaminated, then there is going to be very little interest in any more expensive missions to go measure the contamination.

pedestrian on December 4, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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?

Mars has no magnetic field, or at least not much of an organized one (it does have some various magnets here and there) because apparently it does not have a molten iron core. So if we attempt to generate an atmosphere, it will get stripped away by the solar wind. Also, Mars has little mass so it’s weak gravity won’t hold lighter gases very well. Thirdly, one of Mars’ moons is in an unstable orbit and will crash into the planet or break up forming a ring in a couple million years.

So to terraform Mars we would need to do some things:

1. Create an intentional underground nuclear meltdown in order to get the core heated back up and get volcanism restarted. This will help to generate an atmosphere and possibly create a magnetic field if we could get the core melted again and if there’s enough iron, that would take a few million years at best. If we could simply bury nuclear waste from Earth there, that might help increase the internal temperature of the planet.

2. Intentionally crash Phobos into Mars in order to bulk up its mass a tiny bit. Won’t make a whole lot of difference but crashing it in a controlled fashion is better than having it crash in an uncontrolled fashion. The impact might also cause some additional atmosphere creation, particularly if it melts a lot of underground ice. We can’t mass up Mars too much, though, as its interactions with Jupiter might cause it to become unstable in its orbit and could possibly cause it to be flung out of the solar system. We might be able to divert some rocks from the asteroid belt into it, though, to mass it up a little.

It would take millions of years to terraform Mars. Creating a magnetic field to protect the atmosphere is probably the most tricky part.

Long before the sun make Earth uninhabitable it will share a fate with Mars. The Earth will cool, volcanism will stop, the atmosphere will run too low on CO2 for plants to live, the animals will die. When plate tectonics stops, the water vapor on Earth will begin to evaporate into space, the oceans will dry up and the surface of Earth will be desert except for some permafrost and maybe water in deposits deep underground. When the Earth cools enough that the liquid outer core begins to thicken up, the magnetic field will go away and most of the rest of the atmosphere will be stripped away by the solar wind leaving a thin CO2 atmosphere like Mars.

We could have a “kickstarter”, though, it that we might be able to crash the moon into the Earth and that might create enough heat to get things rolling again, I don’t know.

crosspatch on December 4, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Sheila Jackson Lee should know.

hawkdriver on December 4, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Nicely done.

BallisticBob on December 4, 2011 at 7:04 PM

Mars is overrated.

B Man on December 4, 2011 at 7:09 PM

IMO, we’re past the point of searching for life on these bodies. What we should be doing is looking for water and other features that will support colonization and habitation. Finding minerals and other things useful for habitation will go a long ways toward achieving those ends.

Yeah, I know the environmentalists and other anti-human growth people will go nuts about us “contaminating” other planets or moons. It’s time to stop listening to those luddites, they’ve messed up progress here on earth long enough. Living here in the desert, it is amazing to watch the anguish these idiots go through if a single cactus is disturbed. It will be more fun to watch them get exercised when we start messing with totally sterile, uninhabited regions off of Earth.

AZfederalist on December 4, 2011 at 7:18 PM

Sure. Introduce pond scum or whatever, and two hundred million years from now they’ll be living in tents on public property.

RedCrow on December 4, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Didn’t the Apollo astronauts leave dirty diapers on the moon?

Oldnuke on December 4, 2011 at 7:20 PM

So we won`t be using the Genisis torpedo on Mars?

ThePrez on December 4, 2011 at 6:28 PM

Not until we acknowledge that Mars is really Ceti Alpha 5. That is all Khan really wants—that and tax hikes on the rich.

p40tiger on December 4, 2011 at 7:36 PM

I understand giant balloons can travel through space at the same speed as space ships, its only natural that the liberals who function as pompous gas bags on talk shows could easily power huge Mylar spheres to mars, where surely without the unwashed masses and greedy achievers they bleed like leaches, progressives can then thrive and bloom completely upon their belief that someone else should take care of them.

Speakup on December 4, 2011 at 8:11 PM

Send Obama.

OhioCoastie on December 4, 2011 at 5:40 PM

He’s already there.

Del Dolemonte on December 4, 2011 at 6:01 PM

On yet another vacation?

Bigfoot on December 4, 2011 at 8:26 PM

Send Gore, he can lecture the martians on why their planet has global warming…

right2bright on December 4, 2011 at 8:29 PM

Contamigate!

Aardvark on December 4, 2011 at 9:10 PM

As long as whatever critters we sent there have a work permit and green card I’m all for it.

Limerick on December 4, 2011 at 9:28 PM

It would take millions of years to terraform Mars. Creating a magnetic field to protect the atmosphere is probably the most tricky part.

Long before the sun make Earth uninhabitable it will share a fate with Mars. The Earth will cool, volcanism will stop, the atmosphere will run too low on CO2 for plants to live, the animals will die. When plate tectonics stops, the water vapor on Earth will begin to evaporate into space, the oceans will dry up and the surface of Earth will be desert except for some permafrost and maybe water in deposits deep underground. When the Earth cools enough that the liquid outer core begins to thicken up, the magnetic field will go away and most of the rest of the atmosphere will be stripped away by the solar wind leaving a thin CO2 atmosphere like Mars.

crosspatch on December 4, 2011 at 7:01 PM

-
I’ve often thought that the rings of Saturn and many of the short term comets could eventually be used for their water. Actually the rings are somewhat sorted by composition already, with water ice being a fairly large part of that.

The dense main rings extend from 7,000 km to 80,000 km above Saturn’s equator,[citation needed] with an estimated local thickness of as little as 10 metres,[10] and are composed of 99.9 percent pure water ice with a smattering of impurities that may include tholins or silicates.[11] The main rings are primarily composed of particles ranging in size from 1 centimetre to 10 meters.[12]
The total mass of the rings is about 3 x 1019 kg. This is a small fraction of the total mass of Saturn (about 50 ppb) and is just a little less than the moon Mimas.[13] There have been recent claims, yet unverified, that this is an underestimate due to clumping in the rings and the mass may be three times this figure.[14]

-
Very long term… the only reason to terraform any planet will be because it has so many resources that it is requires or can support a large human presence. If Mars has enough ‘unobtainium’ we’ll want it, but even then, robots will do the work that Americans don’t/or won’t do (and much cheaper).
-
Once off planet and established as space faring… even the stuff about restarting the earth may not be worth the effort.
-
The BIGGEST problem with randomly placing an Earth micro or two on Mars will be if/when it hitchhikes it’s way back someday… Aliens from other worlds will not likely be hungry for our planets bio mass… but bring back a hundred-years lost relative and look out.
-

RalphyBoy on December 4, 2011 at 9:34 PM

It’s a big mistake to accidentally contaminate any other planet.

Based on the long history of terrible outcomes, of course. Humans are the trailer trash of the universe, you know.

BobMbx on December 4, 2011 at 9:58 PM

What ever happened to the idea of terraforming?

In the abstract, terraforming sounds grand and glorious, but thinking that we could effect planned global-scale changes without making a total hash of it is, well, just laughable. Look at those climate alarmists who want us to commit to massive geo-engineering schemes. We can’t even identify all of the variables which combine to produce what we call climate, nor do we grasp how they all interact over geological time, and yet these fools want to shoot chemical compounds into the atmosphere, or shield the planet with orbiting sunshades or some such nonsense.

Why is that the smarter we get, the more lunatic our scientists seem to become?

martin.hale on December 4, 2011 at 6:12 PM

It’s only some of our scientists that are looney, namely those who abandoned science in favor of a political agenda (a totalitarian ‘global governance’) and promulgated a fanciful speculation (anthropogenic global warming) into an hysterical excuse to achieve that agenda.

Terraforming Mars, even if carefully thought out and applied, might well have unforeseen consequences. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Genetically-modified plant life could utilitize the CO2 in Mars’s atmosphere to oxygenate it. The big problem is water, but there are massive sources of water in the Solar System (comets, and as someone mentioned, the rings of Saturn), so the first step in terraforming will probably be hydrating the place. It won’t happen overnight; we need colonists, and a few decades of controlled experiments before even beginning. But there’s a whole planet out there waiting for humanity: let’s go for it!

As Robert Zubrin (viz. The Case for Mars) has eloquently pointed out, the American ethos needs a frontier to sustain it. Mars is that frontier.

MrLynn on December 4, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Dagnabit! Got the quoted ‘graph backwards!

MrLynn on December 4, 2011 at 10:20 PM

What a load. Try surviving for more than ten seconds on the surface of Mars. It has no atmosphere to speak of. So it has no oxygen. No water. And the temperature is a balmy -17C to -117C. And no pressure. In short, all the environmental requirements for life do not exist. Not only that, but the trip from earth to Mars would have even more extreme environmental factors.

If you want to kill something, send it into the vacuum of space. NASA couldn’t – even if they spent billions trying – get anything live on earth to survive the trip, much less survive the first 10 seconds on Mars.

keep the change on December 4, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Grill your drills or risk the Red disk.

profitsbeard on December 4, 2011 at 11:05 PM

As long as whatever critters we sent there have a work permit and green card I’m all for it.

Limerick on December 4, 2011 at 9:28 PM

Wouldn’t they be requiring a RED card?

NTxOkie on December 4, 2011 at 11:36 PM

So, it would be a trillion times easier to populate Antarctica, more or less.

TexasDan on December 5, 2011 at 12:22 AM

Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

ZenDraken on December 5, 2011 at 1:21 AM

Real terraforming would take hundreds of years.

Ortzinator on December 5, 2011 at 2:45 AM

Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

ZenDraken on December 5, 2011 at 1:21 AM

F***ing A.

Jack Bauer on December 5, 2011 at 5:55 AM

Sure. Introduce pond scum or whatever, and two hundred million years from now they’ll be living in tents on public property.

RedCrow on December 4, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Why wait? Occupy Mars now!

Extrafishy on December 5, 2011 at 7:26 AM

If Mars has enough ‘unobtainium’ we’ll want it, but even then, robots will do the work that Americans don’t/or won’t do (and much cheaper).
-
RalphyBoy on December 4, 2011 at 9:34 PM

The Dems will insist on a path to citizenship and decommisioned robots will remain registered Dems forever.

Annar on December 5, 2011 at 7:38 AM

No magnetic core = no atmosphere to sustain human life, at least that is how I understand it.

WordsMatter on December 5, 2011 at 7:45 AM

It’s a big mistake to accidentally contaminate any other planet. Space Agencies need to maintain a higher standard or it will come back to bite us in the rear one day. Remember the Zebra Mussel, Japanese Beetle, and the Africanized Bee… just to name a few.
- RalphyBoy on December 4, 2011 at 5:58 PM

Yeah, who knows what horrors would await us if an earth germ ever got loose up there…?

Akzed on December 5, 2011 at 9:38 AM

It’s a big mistake to accidentally contaminate any other planet. Space Agencies need to maintain a higher standard or it will come back to bite us in the rear one day. Remember the Zebra Mussel, Japanese Beetle, and the Africanized Bee… just to name a few.
- RalphyBoy on December 4, 2011 at 5:58 PM

Once the atmosphere had been determined, the subsequent Mars explorers should have been packed with microbes and algae to fix the iron, and start producing oxygen.

MarkT on December 5, 2011 at 9:51 AM

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.

The main problem would be the MSM trumpeting “We Found Life on Mars”, and NASA wondering whether they brought life from Earth. After all, who could go to Mars to disprove it?

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?

It’s not that easy to “build up an atmosphere”. The Earth’s atmosphere has a total mass of about 5.2*10^18 kg, or about 5200 trillion metric tonnes. Scaled down to the surface area of Mars, the equivalent of 5% oxygen on Earth would require generating (or bringing from Earth) 73 trillion tonnes of oxygen, then preventing it from escaping into space, since Mars only has about 38% of Earth’s gravity.

If mankind wanted to colonize Mars, it would be more feasible to build an airtight dome under which colonists would live, with enough oxygen, water, and plants to feed them and generate oxygen from breathed-out CO2. Even this would require many flights from Earth to bring in the resources for the colony to become self- sufficient. When we see how long it took to build the international space station in orbit around the Earth (which space shuttles could reach in a few hours), a colony on Mars probably won’t happen in our lifetimes…

Steve Z on December 5, 2011 at 10:47 AM

Yeah, now that we’ve got things running so well here, it’s time to go out and screw up another planet.

Cricket624 on December 5, 2011 at 11:01 AM

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?

Any attempt to build up the atmosphere of Mars will likely fail for one simple reason.

Mars has no magnetosphere to protect the atmosphere from the solar wind. Couple this with the significantly weaker gravity and any atmosphere will be continually eroded into it’s current insignificance.

rspock on December 5, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Jazz, while I do get your point, and could wax eloquently on the piss poor path being taken at the New Arabic Sensitivity Administration [NASA], I’m just glad that ANY sort of science is still being conducted there today.

How is it that everything the 0bama Regime touches goes to … offal? Honestly, this clown is seriously fracked up. ;o)

DannoJyd on December 5, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Knowing NASA scientists, they probably wanted to implant life on Mars so they could “discover” it next year and get all kinds of government grants to study it!

Christian Conservative on December 5, 2011 at 12:04 PM