In the 1969 novel “The Strain of Andromeda” by Michael Criton, a deadly alien microbe gets to Earth aboard a shot down military satellite, and scientists are trying to contain it.
Although the story is fictional, it explores a very real and long-standing problem shared by NASA and governments: that people working in space (or robots) can involuntarily contaminate the Earth with extraterrestrial life or, conversely, contaminate other planets with microorganisms from Earth.
According to Scott Hubbard, an adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, this is an old fear that gained new relevance in the COVID-19 era. Hubbard is also co-author of a report published last month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which reviews the latest findings and recommendations regarding “planetary protection” or “planetary quarantine”. These concepts were approved in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which more than 120 countries have signed, including the U.S. “Now there are a lot of commercial space companies, and we need to understand if they are doing planetary defense procedures,” Hubbard said. – We need to understand whether they are following planetary protection procedures,” Hubbard said,
Ilon Mask, as we know, wants to send people to the Red Planet by 2024. NASA and the world need to seriously plan new business activities in space. The professor added that, according to the scientific community, the likelihood that images from Mars, millions of years old, will contain an active life form capable of infecting the Earth is very low. But the samples would still be quarantined and treated as if they were Ebola until proven safe. As for humans, the astronauts on the first lunar missions were quarantined. Once it became clear that the moon posed no danger, the quarantine was cancelled. “This procedure will certainly apply to people returning from Mars,” said Professor Hubbard.