The Coronavirus Outbreak Raises Concerns About Retrieving Samples From Mars

NASA is sending a mission to Mars. The plan is to bring samples from the Red Planet, samples that will hopefully get answers about habitability up there. But the new Covid-19 virus here on Earth raises old fear — As early as Carl Sagan’s view of Martian pathogens “The Cosmic Connection — An Extraterrestrial Perspective,” published in 1973.

The Coronavirus, Covid-19, is raising concerns here, on Earth

Exploration can be both innovative and ignorant. Bringing samples from Mars, if they contain traces of Martian life, they could prove to be death for people on Earth. The vice versa stands too: whatever marks humans may leave on Mars during their mission could affect future life there. But for now, the most significant concern is the first scenario.

Earth and Mars are two environments light-years away. We don’t have an immune system to risk being exposed to whatever lives on Mars. We don’t know how to contain the exposure to a, let’s say, Martian virus. We can’t do it with the one threatening to become a pandemic here on Earth now. Covid-19 has infected 80.382 people, and 2710 of them died.

The World Health Organization says that the spread is difficult to track, no matter what the authorities do. So, what can WHO do in the case of exposure to an alien microbe? Or any other organization for that matter?

The Link Between Coronavirus and the Future Mars Mission

“Precisely because Mars is an environment of great potential biological interest, it is possible that on Mars there are pathogens, organisms which, if transported to the terrestrial environment, might do enormous biological damage,” said Carl Sagan in 1973.

“The coronavirus that’s spreading currently is another example of why it’s so important to understand the consequences of interacting with environments humans rarely contact and then distributing widely whatever [they] picked up,” said Catharine Conley. She was NASA’s planetary protection officer from 2006 until November 2017.

A containment facility is needed to be developed before the samples return from Mars. A place where the samples can be deposited and safely handled and tested. But it looks like this is a costly proposal.

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