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Space & Astronomy

First Mars samples will be quarantined on Earth

By T.K. Randall
November 24, 2019 · Comment icon 11 comments

Returning samples to the Earth is extremely challenging. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA and ESA are planning an ambitious mission to return samples of Mars to the Earth for the first time.
While previous missions to Mars have involved the use of compact laboratory equipment to analyze the content of materials collected on the Red Planet, nothing can compare to the level of scrutiny such samples could be put under if scientists were to have direct access to them here on Earth.

Actually fetching samples directly from Mars however is no easy task, especially given the number of steps involved and the possibility for something to go wrong at any stage of the mission.

As things stand, the plan will be to first have the upcoming Mars 2020 rover collect samples of rocks and soil on the Martian surface, then package them up in small sealed metal tubes.

"Caches of these tubes will then be left at designated sites on the Martian surface," said Sanjay Vijendran of ESA's Mars Sample Return team.

A second rover built by ESA will then be sent to the Red Planet where it will trundle across the surface and gather up these sample caches before taking them to a waiting US rocket.
The rocket will blast the samples up into space where a robotic spacecraft will collect them. After returning to Earth, it will release the samples in a capsule that will land in the Utah desert.

One of the most important aspects of the mission will be to ensure that the samples don't contaminate our own planet with any alien parasites like something out of The X-Files.

To this end, the samples will be kept at Biosafety Level 4 containment facilities at all times.

"It is extremely unlikely that we will bring back living organisms, and even if we do, it is unlikely they will be harmful," said Vijendran. "However, we cannot take that for granted, and every measure to make sure the samples are sealed and pose no threat to the planet will be taken."

If all goes to plan, the samples will provide scientists with a vast wealth of information about Mars.

There is even the possibility that they will contain the fossilized remains of microbial life forms.

Source: The Guardian | Comments (11)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Wyld.wulf 4 years ago
I really hope the scientists who study the returned sample make sure to watch the 1st episode of the Outer Limits before this happens. I believe it was called Sand Kings”.
Comment icon #3 Posted by AllPossible 4 years ago
LOL come on now. We have so many man made & natural viruses on this planet that some sand from Mars won't effect us at all. We would destroy ourselves well before something from another planet would.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 4 years ago
It makes sense. The first samples from the Moon were quarantined too. Life from Mars is unlikely to be dangerous to us, as it would have evolved to live under very different conditions than what we have on Earth, on the other hand why take the chance ?
Comment icon #5 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
And you are willing to risk all life on Earth based on your personal opinion backed up by absolutely no evidence at all are you? Fortunately those that make the decisions are not so blasé.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Most of them effectively still are, but that is more to protect the samples from contamination from earth borne sources than the other way around.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 4 years ago
True. I should have written that they "are" instead of "were". 
Comment icon #8 Posted by AllPossible 4 years ago
You have no clue what biological weapons are then, some countries including the US have enough to wipe out half of civilzation. We created thermonuclear warheads & youre saying that sand is a threat to us? You missed the point. I believe that we should quarantine it but look at the threat we pose to ourselves 1st
Comment icon #9 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 4 years ago
Do you ? There are no reliable indications that the US have any biological weapons. The effect of biological weapons is very difficult to calculate so any claim like that is guesswork at best. Nuclear weapons work in a completely different way than biological weapons, so that is not a usefull comparison. Why not do both ?
Comment icon #10 Posted by AllPossible 4 years ago
Sorry but youre not thinking straight. Nuclear weapons work differently then bioweapons? You mean cause the radiation last longer then a bio weaponn? The US has plenty of bioweapons that other countries have we just dont advertise or threaten others with it. And ya we should quarantine it but the threat is more of here where we live & create dangerous materials
Comment icon #11 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Sorry, but you're not thinking at all. Your basic logic is that there are things that can kill us so we shouldn't worry about other things that can kill us. That is about as far away from rational thinking as it is possible to be. Your argument that we shouldn't de worried about sand is a classical strawman argument,  as dishonest as it is foolish. No one is worried about sand, but the possibility of microbial life on Mars can not be discounted. In the unlikely event such life is harmful to humans we would have no resistance to it. If you want to know what that would be like google, "first peo... [More]

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