David Gould asked:
Could we Introduce Life to Mars?
We put this question to Catharine Conley, NASA's Planetary Protection Officer...
Catharine - Firstly, we know that there's life on Earth that could survive in similar environments on Mars. There are organisms that live deep beneath the surfaces of South Africa that live on the radioactive decay of the rocks around them. If they were put in a similar location on Mars, they would certainly be able to survive there. There are also lichens and other organisms that at least can survive and many of the aspects of the environment of Mars that we can mimic in labs on Earth.
People have done studies to try and understand how long it would take and what do you need to do to terraform life on Mars. First, you would need to warm up the planet a little bit and then you would introduce organisms that could change the atmosphere, photosynthetic organisms that would breakdown the carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen so that humans might be able to live there. That process would take about 100,000 years. So, it is possible certainly to terraform Mars. We have organisms on Earth that could probably live there with only a small amount of tweaking.
Hannah - So yes, modelling predicts that we could terraform Mars with life from Earth. But do we want to terraform it? Back to Cassie, whose job it is to protect our planets.
Catharine - My job as Planetary Protection Officer is to make sure that NASA does not contaminate Mars with life from Earth. Because we want to study life that might be already on Mars, we donít want to introduce life until we have a chance to study what's already there. This is specified in the outer space treaty. Article 9 says that we will not cause harmful contamination of other locations or adverse changes to the environment of the Earth as we explore extra-terrestrial locations. And itís also a good idea from agency policy because the reason weíre going to Mars is to look for life. And itís easy to find life on Mars. All you need to do is bring it with you.
One of the big concerns is that we don't introduce unwanted life onto the planet until it is thoroughly studied. Thus Martian probes are assembled to be more sterile than your average surgical suite.
The question asked was "Could we introduce life on Mars in order to 'terraform' it?", to which I think the obvious answer is no.
Terraforming is still firmly in the realms of science fiction.
We've already started the process. In 1971, Mariner 9 was launched to orbit Mars. Because it was an orbiter, NASA did not sterilise it - maybe they were hoping that a manned mission would be able to retrieve it before it contaminated Mars.
There is actually a book, referenced with research articles about the possibility of contamination of Mars (sorry for preview only). It sounds like there is a high possibility that there has already been at least some Martian contamination from Earth, although the viability of some potential microbes might be limited. Others might be protected if buried. Growth of the microbes, and spread on a planetary scale would still be quite slow. CliffordK, Sun, 22nd Jul 2012
I believe there are enough extreme bacteria living here on earth, that either could survive, or could be changed to easily adapt to a martian environment, the problem is the time it would take any population's to "evolve" into higher life forms needed to complete the terra forming. I would think some plants, and insects might be genetically altered to survive if not now, in a short time if serious effort is put into the effort. But to completely terra form the whole planet in a short time is not possible considering our current technology.
It is quite possible that Mars would be incapable of supporting a terran atmosphere. That doesn't mean that it it would be incapable of supporting life. But, humans in our current form may not be able to walk outside without assistance.
There is no way any Earth organisms would be able to survive and live in Martian conditions, however modified. They are just too different. The main reason for not wanting to contaminate Mars, or anywhere else - they crashed the Galileo probe into Jupiter rather than risk accidental contamination of Europa, is to prevent false positive results if it looks as if some kind of indigenous life is found. Guthers, Mon, 30th Jul 2012
Yep, there is no way...AGREED :)
Ordinary Earth life can't survive on Mars but there are many lifeforms on Earth that have extraordinary "extremophile" capabilites and some of them could survive there just as they are right now. Some could even reproduce on Mars if they found just a small trace of melting salty brine there, maybe as thin films on the rocks, or even the sparse morning and evening dew you get at some lattitudes on Mars. The don't need oxygen and some indeed can manage fine just on salty brine and whatever minerals are in the rocks - so called "primary producers".
I don't understand. Why is it so important that we don't contaminate Mars. I understand that if we contaminate Mars it will become almost impossible to study if life ever existed on Mars... But is it really that important? Is it important enough to stop all other scientific studies on Mars? Karl Parks, Sat, 23rd Feb 2013