US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — In Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel, The Andromeda Strain, a deadly alien microbe lands on Earth aboard a downed military satellite, and scientists are trying to contain it.
Despite the fact that the plot is fictional, it explores a very real and long-standing problem shared by NASA and the governments of different countries: that people working in space (or robots) can unwittingly pollute the Earth with extraterrestrial life or, conversely, pollute other planets with microorganisms from the Earth.
According to Scott Hubbard , an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, this is an old fear that has gained new relevance in the COVID-19 era.
Hubbard is also a co-author of a report published last month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine that addresses recent findings and recommendations regarding planetary protection or planetary quarantine.
These concepts were approved in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which was signed by more than 120 countries, including the United States. “A lot of commercial space companies have now appeared, and we need to understand whether they are carrying out planetary protection procedures,” said Hubbard. – For example, Elon Musk, as we know, wants to send people to the Red Planet by 2024. NASA and the world need to seriously plan new entrepreneurial activities in space.”
The professor added: according to the scientific community, the likelihood that images from Mars, which are millions of years old, will contain an active life form that can infect the Earth is extremely small. But the samples will still be quarantined and processed as if they were an Ebola virus until their safety was proven.
As for humans, astronauts of the first lunar missions were quarantined. As soon as it became clear that the moon was not dangerous, quarantine was canceled.
“Such a procedure will undoubtedly apply to people returning from Mars,” said Professor Hubbard.
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