For all those Trekkies out there that used to watch all the trouble that Captain Kirk got himself into for not really listening to the “prime directive,” they’re about to experience real-life concerns of a similar nature.
Currently, space agencies have guidelines set up to try and safeguard Mars and other planets from “biological contamination from Earth”; quite simply, they don’t want bacteria from Earth contaminating other planets.
This makes sense when you consider that scientists need to make discoveries, such as the rounded pebbles that hint at past flowing water, but don’t want to damage the planet as they do so.
NASA and others have very strict regulations to adhere to when they put forward plans to take to their aircrafts and go off into space for more exploration. Wherever they intend to visit — moons, comets, or planets — they must abide by the rules set out in the planetary protection guidelines.
A prime example of such caution is when NASA launched their Mars rover, Curiosity; only after it had been thoroughly sterilized and scientists could be sure that no more than 300,000 bacterial spores remained, was the mission allowed to begin.
This is because, while it would be so much simpler to remove all Earth microbes, researchers claim that its virtually impossible to do so, hence the reason for such rigid limitations.
As you can imagine, not only do such procedures cost a lot of money, but they’re also extremely time consuming.
Even though it’s clear that such rules need to be put in place to preserve all the wonders and secrets of the universe, knowing about them seems to put a dampener on space exploration.
After all, when you think of space and the “final frontier,” you don’t want to think about all the money it costs and how long it takes to carry out the mission. It just doesn’t sound very romantic any more.
Nevertheless, it certainly puts science into perspective for us.
Regardless of whether you’re now sat thinking about space and whether it’s all you once thought it was, the debate about planetary protection will continue to soldier on.
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