Maybe a threat from Mars? A special laboratory can protect against space contagion

“It is possible that there are pathogens on Mars,” Sagan wrote, continuing: “Organisms that could cause tremendous biological damage if brought to Earth – the Martian Plague.” Similar scenarios, such as those imagined by Michael Crichton in the novel The Tribe of Andromeda, describe extraterrestrial organisms that “travel” to Earth on samples of material from other planets and disrupt the local biosphere.

“The probability that such pathogens exist is small. But even with a small probability, we cannot afford to risk billions of lives,” Sagan wrote.

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For a long time, scientists thought about Sagan’s warnings only hypothetically. But with the passage of time, it became necessary to take concrete steps to prevent external contamination. NASA and the European Space Agency are preparing for a joint Mars Sample Return mission. Baby carriage on the red planet at the moment collects materials, which is later picked up by another spaceship and brought back to Earth. No one can say with certainty that these samples will not contain small Martians harmful to Earthlings.

“The probability of (the samples) causing contamination is not zero. That’s why we’re preparing ahead,” said Andrea Harrington, who specializes in Mars sampling at NASA. The agency therefore plans to treat samples from other planets the same way medical facilities treat Ebola samples: with care.

“Caution” in this case means that the moment samples from Mars land on Earth, they must be immediately contained in a building called the “Sample Receiving Facility”. According to the mission organizers, such a building will have to meet the highest, fourth, level of biological security, which includes even the most dangerous pathogens known to modern science. The room for storing the samples must also be absolutely clean, so that anything earthly does not contaminate the samples from Mars.

NASA has no time to waste; if samples from the mission return on time, soil and rocks from Mars will land on earth in the mid-30s. This is indeed enough to build a facility for receiving samples, but only under the condition that the construction goes according to plan without obstacles, for example political ones.

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Since no existing laboratory was either clean enough or secure enough for NASA’s needs, scientists from the space agency, including Andrea Harrington, visited a total of 18 facilities that deal with biohazards and require ultra-clean spaces and advanced equipment. NASA hopes that some of them will serve as inspiration and help in building your own structure.

For scientists like Harrington, all the hustle and bustle is worth it: “This will be the first transfer of samples from another planet to Earth. It will be the first time another world meets humans,” she says.

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