Life detected on Mars might have actually originated in NASA labs, according to an Ivy League scientist

Life detected on Mars might have actually originated in NASA labs, according to an Ivy League scientist
·2 min read
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be viewed in the distance during its fourth flight on the red planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • NASA might have contaminated Mars with life, according to the Cornell scientist Christopher Mason.

  • It's possible that life discovered on the planet might have "originated in NASA labs," he said.

  • Microbes can wreak havoc when they arrive at a new ecosystem, he wrote in a BBC article.

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As explorations on Mars continue, a Cornell scientist has questioned whether life discovered on the red planet might have actually "originated on Earth in NASA labs," The Hill reported on Thursday.

Christopher Mason, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, said such a scenario could have occurred despite rigorous cleaning processes and spacecraft assembly in specialized rooms.

Mason wrote in depth about the subject in an article for the BBC. Spacecraft, like NASA's most recent Mars rover, Perseverance, are built in thoroughly sterilized rooms - with air filters and strict biological procedures - one layer at a time, with all equipment cleaned before it is added to the machine, he explained.

These methods restrict bacteria, viruses, or fungi on machinery to be sent on a mission.

"But, it is almost impossible to get to zero biomass on a spacecraft," Mason wrote. "Microbes have been on Earth for billions of years, and they are everywhere. They are inside us, on our bodies, and all around us. Some can sneak through even the cleanest of clean rooms."

In two recent studies Mason was involved in, researchers highlighted how some organisms might survive the cleaning process and also the trip to Mars, as well as how fast microbial species can grow while in space.

"It turns out that clean rooms might serve as an evolutionary selection process for the hardiest bugs that then may have a greater chance of surviving a journey to Mars," he wrote.

Clean rooms at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory pose the greatest risk, as evidence of microbes with greater resistance against radiation and cold environments has been found.

Mason added that if these microbes appear on Mars, it would cause what researchers refer to as "forward contamination," when humanity brings life-forms from one planet to another, intentionally or unintentionally.

He warned that the microbes can "wreak havoc" when they arrive at a new ecosystem and that they could also pose detrimental threats to an astronaut's health.

Perseverance landed on Mars in February and began looking for signs that might indicate ancient life on the planet.

NASA said it has been taking extra precautions to ensure all samples returned from Mars will be safely contained. Scientists, however, are aware that tests might be needed to ensure findings are Martian in origin.

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