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View Full Version : Curiosity Had Planetary Protection Slip-Up



A.DIM
2011-Dec-01, 03:18 PM
As reported at Space com (http://www.space.com/13783-nasa-msl-curiosity-mars-rover-planetary-protection.html):

a step in ... planetary protection measures wasn't adhered to for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, now en route to the Red Planet ...
The incident has become a lessons-learned example of miscommunication in assuring that planetary protection procedures are strictly adhered to. The issue involves a set of drill bits carried by the Curiosity rover, which launched Nov. 26 to Mars. When project developers made an internal decision not to send the equipment through a final ultra-cleanliness step, it marked a deviation from the planetary protection plans scripted for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.


Does it really matter? If Mars is habitable for any stowaways, chances are such microbial extremophiles have transported to Mars before, through natural mechanisms.

Extrasolar
2011-Dec-01, 10:00 PM
Does it really matter? If Mars is habitable for any stowaways, chances are such microbial extremophiles have transported to Mars before, through natural mechanisms.

What are the chances?

R.A.F.
2011-Dec-02, 02:40 AM
If Mars is habitable for any stowaways, chances are such microbial extremophiles have transported to Mars before, through natural mechanisms.

There is no evidence for this claim..."chances" are irrelevant.

A.DIM
2011-Dec-02, 02:12 PM
What are the chances?

According this recent paper (http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1108/1108.3375v1.pdf) they're higher than we previously thought.
:)

antoniseb
2011-Dec-02, 02:31 PM
... Does it really matter? If Mars is habitable for any stowaways, chances are such microbial extremophiles have transported to Mars before, through natural mechanisms.

Until we prove this transport mechanism HAS worked, then it matters. Right now we have suggestions both ways, but no convincing evidence. Now, personally, I think that we'll be inhabiting Mars within a century or two (at least to a small degree), and that will make such contamination today meaningless. I don't think that bacteria that came on MSL will be able to spread quickly and thrive in such a way as to make future tests of Martian life invalid.

I *do* think we need to be extremely careful about Europa, Enceladus, and other more likely places for life. Following good procedures is important. Your above mentioned MSL slip-up is evidence that we're not ready to launch to more likely life places.

Strange
2011-Dec-02, 02:42 PM
Does it really matter? If Mars is habitable for any stowaways, chances are such microbial extremophiles have transported to Mars before, through natural mechanisms.

Well, it matters if we want to determine if such microbes got there by natural means or by piggybacking on MSL.

A.DIM
2011-Dec-02, 02:42 PM
Until we prove this transport mechanism HAS worked, then it matters. Right now we have suggestions both ways, but no convincing evidence. Now, personally, I think that we'll be inhabiting Mars within a century or two (at least to a small degree), and that will make such contamination today meaningless. I don't think that bacteria that came on MSL will be able to spread quickly and thrive in such a way as to make future tests of Martian life invalid.

I just have great difficulty thinking either Earth or Mars, or indeed our solar system, is a closed-system. We have evidence for material transfer to Earth and I see no reason to think ejecta from Earth could not reach Mars. I imagine by the time we begin colonising Mars the idea of cosmic ancestry will be commonplace and walking fields looking for earthly meteorites will be routine science. :)


I *do* think we need to be extremely careful about Europa, Enceladus, and other more likely places for life. Following good procedures is important. Your above mentioned MSL slip-up is evidence that we're not ready to launch to more likely life places.
This incident raises another question for me: If they're really trying to find evidence for an independent abiogenesis event why would project managers make such a decision? It doesn't seem so much a "slip up" as it seems purposeful.

R.A.F.
2011-Dec-02, 02:57 PM
It doesn't seem so much a "slip up" as it seems purposeful.

If I understand the circumstances correctly, it was purposeful, so A.DIM is correct...and yes, I find it very "odd" also.


...and yes, you read that correctly. I am in agreement with A.DIM on this particular point.

KABOOM
2011-Dec-02, 02:59 PM
According this recent paper (http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1108/1108.3375v1.pdf) they're higher than we previously thought.
:)

Is it fair to infer from the results of this study that in the early years of our solar system (1st 750M years), whence collision activity was much higher, that the particles migrating from Mars to Earth should far exceed those going in the opposite direction? Due to Mars having a much lower escape velocity and also Earth having a bigger gravitional attraction.

AndreH
2011-Dec-02, 03:25 PM
Well, it matters if we want to determine if such microbes got there by natural means or by piggybacking on MSL.

that is what I thought first when reading the OP. It seems strange (and creationists and alike will bring this up for the next 50 years in case MSL should find anything on Mars).

Extrasolar
2011-Dec-02, 03:53 PM
that is what I thought first when reading the OP. It seems strange (and creationists and alike will bring this up for the next 50 years in case MSL should find anything on Mars).

Also, scientists and skeptics.

AndreH
2011-Dec-02, 04:06 PM
Also, scientists and skeptics.

you might be right there.

Paul Beardsley
2011-Dec-02, 04:42 PM
I just have great difficulty thinking either Earth or Mars, or indeed our solar system, is a closed-system.

This arguing from incredulity is more a reflection on you than the actual state of things. You've been clutching straws for so long that you believe the manger is real. (Ahem. My metaphor skills are rusty.)


We have evidence for material transfer to Earth and I see no reason to think ejecta from Earth could not reach Mars.

It's a possibility but it is not the default position. In your many other threads on this subject, the problems of re-entry, impact and so on mean it is far from a sure thing.


I imagine by the time we begin colonising Mars the idea of cosmic ancestry will be commonplace and walking fields looking for earthly meteorites will be routine science. :)

Science fiction isn't evidence.


This incident raises another question for me: If they're really trying to find evidence for an independent abiogenesis event why would project managers make such a decision? It doesn't seem so much a "slip up" as it seems purposeful.

Given that R.A.F. agrees with you, this could prove to be the first interesting conspiracy theory on BAUT.

Extrasolar
2011-Dec-02, 05:04 PM
Originally Posted by A.DIM
This incident raises another question for me: If they're really trying to find evidence for an independent abiogenesis event why would project managers make such a decision? It doesn't seem so much a "slip up" as it seems purposeful.


Given that R.A.F. agrees with you, this could prove to be the first interesting conspiracy theory on BAUT.

Since when is MSL looking for evidence of abiogenesis?


The overarching science goal of the mission is to assess
whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental
conditions favorable to microbial life, both its habitability and
its preservation.

Edit: Why didnt they just put a microscope on the darn thing!

Trakar
2011-Dec-02, 05:36 PM
Is it fair to infer from the results of this study that in the early years of our solar system (1st 750M years), whence collision activity was much higher, that the particles migrating from Mars to Earth should far exceed those going in the opposite direction? Due to Mars having a much lower escape velocity and also Earth having a bigger gravitional attraction.

Not only fair, but most assuredly so, in my consideration. The cosmic "bump" that created the Tharsis Bulge probably showered the Earth in martian pebbles for a long, long time. For that matter Olympus Mons in its more active days may have had some eruptions that pushed some material to Martian escape velocity,...but this is just speaking to the matter leaving Mars issue, not the efficiency of such mechanisms as a biological transport system.

PraedSt
2011-Dec-02, 07:03 PM
Yay. Now we can start the terraforming.

Bobunf
2011-Dec-02, 10:50 PM
I don’t believe this "slip up" is a big deal for four reasons:

1. The cleaning processes before the “final ultra-cleanliness step” may already have eliminated any life on these drill bits that would have been eliminated by the that final step.

2. If there were any life still existing on the drill bits, it may be destroyed in the voyage between the Earth and Moon, by vacuum, cold, heat, radiation, lack of nutrients or other causes over the next nine months at least to the extent that the “final ultra-cleanliness step” would have accomplished.

3. Spacecraft may already have brought Earth life to Mars at least to the extent that contamination would have been avoided by the “final ultra-cleanliness step.”

 In 1962 the Soviet Union’s Mars 1 lost communication before reaching Mars. A crash on Mars was possible. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures.
 In 1964 NASA’s Mariner 3 lost communication before reaching Mars. A crash on Mars was possible. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures.
 Also in 1964 the Soviet Union’s Zond 2 lost communication before reaching Mars. A crash on Mars was possible. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures.

These missions were all before the 1967 treaty concerning “Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space.”

 In 1971 NASA’s Mariner 9 was put into orbit around Mars. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures. Will its orbit decay to the point that it crashes on Mars before we have found evidence of life of any kind on Mars?

 Also in 1971 the Soviet Union’s Mars 2 was launched to Mars. We do know that it, in fact, did crash on Mars. Mars 2 also contained on orbiter. Will its orbit decay to the point that it crashes on Mars before we have found evidence of life of any kind on Mars? The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, for these two vehicles is unknown.

 And again in 1971, Mars 3, another Soviet mission, achieved mankind’s first successful landing on Mars (carrying a tethered rover). Mars 3 also contained an orbiter, which may have crashed on Mars. The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, for these two vehicles is unknown.

 In 1973 the Soviet Union’s Mars 5 achieved Mars orbit. Will its orbit decay to the point that it crashes on Mars before we have found evidence of life of any kind on Mars? The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, is unknown.

 Also in 1973 the Soviet Union’s Mars 6 did crash on Mars. The craft did provide the first direct scientific measurements of the Martian atmosphere as it descended. The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, is unknown.

 In 1975 NASA landed two spacecraft on Mars, Viking 1 and 2. They were subject to the equivalent of category 4 Planetary Protection Measues.

 In 1988 the Soviet Union launched Phobos 1 and 2. Both missions were lost and both orbits will decay and the spacecraft will crash on Mars within 50 million years, perhaps sooner. I don’t know what Planetary Protection Measures were used, if any.

 In 1992 NASA Mars Observer (an orbiter) was launched. Contact was lost in 1993, and the craft may have eventually crashed on Mars. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 1997 NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 Also in 1997 NASA’s Global Surveyor arrived at Mars. Global Surveyor achieved Mars orbit by aero-braking in the atmosphere of Mars. It was planned to raise it’s orbit near end of mission in order to prevent any near term orbit decay and crash on Mars, but the craft failed before this was accomplished. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 1998 Mars Climate Orbiter crashed on Mars. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 1999 NASA’s Mars Polar Lander was lost on entering the Martian atmosphere. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2002 NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft used aero-braking to enter Mars orbit. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2003 the European Space Agency’s Beagle crashed on Mars. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 Also in 2003 NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spacecraft – Spirit and Opportunity – landed on Mars. They used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2006 NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using aero-braking entered Mars orbit. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2008 NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

I think that's about 25 spacecraft that have landed, crashed, may have crashed, may crash someday on Mars. or that used aero-braking in the Martian atmosphere. I may have forgotten some. These craft were launched over nearly a 50 year period, by three different national entities, with changing planetary protection criteria.

I would find it hard to believe that there have not already been a number of instances in which spacecraft have interacted with Mars without Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures. Even in those cases where such measures were taken (six I believe), may there not have been other slip-ups, known and unknown, announced and unannounced?

4. In the (in my opinion) very unlikely event that biological contamination of Mars has not occurred from spacecraft interacting with Mars, I find it even harder to imagine that sometime in the last four billion years something didn’t happen to transport Earthly life to Mars, whether from impacts or some other process.

As many as 100 Martian meteorites have been found on Earth. Obviously only the tiniest fraction of such meteorites have been found. Only about 1% of all meteorites currently landing on Earth are found. Meteorites that landed long ago are found at much lower rates. I think that suggests there must have been many millions of Martian meteorites that have impacted Earth.

The process may not be as robust going the other way, but it must surely have happened in the thousands at least. The study “Dynamics of escaping Earth ejecta and their collision probability with different Solar System bodies” by M. Reyes-Ruiz. Et al suggests that for certain types of impacts on Earth, the probability of ejecta landing on Mars is about 50% of that of landing on the Moon.

So. Don’t worry. Enjoy life.

A.DIM
2011-Dec-03, 02:17 AM
This arguing from incredulity is more a reflection on you than the actual state of things. You've been clutching straws for so long that you believe the manger is real. (Ahem. My metaphor skills are rusty.)

I'm skeptical planets, moons, solar systems, galaxies even, are closed systems. Material exchange in our system is factual, some comets are thought to be of extrasolar origin, galactic collisions are factual ... and you consider it clutching at straws because I can't believe these are closed systems?


It's a possibility but it is not the default position. In your many other threads on this subject, the problems of re-entry, impact and so on mean it is far from a sure thing.

Although it's looking more likely, no one said it's a sure thing. But if you've been paying attention to those many other threads you should know that it is down to whether or not life could survive the journey; the problems of ejection, reentry, impact aren't.


Science fiction isn't evidence.

My scenario wasn't proffered as evidence so I can certainly agree.


Given that R.A.F. agrees with you, this could prove to be the first interesting conspiracy theory on BAUT.

Perhaps, but I doubt it.
Besides, I'm not much on conspiracies or other such riff raff.
;)

A.DIM
2011-Dec-03, 02:18 AM
I don’t believe this "slip up" is a big deal for four reasons:

1. The cleaning processes before the “final ultra-cleanliness step” may already have eliminated any life on these drill bits that would have been eliminated by the that final step.

2. If there were any life still existing on the drill bits, it may be destroyed in the voyage between the Earth and Moon, by vacuum, cold, heat, radiation, lack of nutrients or other causes over the next nine months at least to the extent that the “final ultra-cleanliness step” would have accomplished.

3. Spacecraft may already have brought Earth life to Mars at least to the extent that contamination would have been avoided by the “final ultra-cleanliness step.”

 In 1962 the Soviet Union’s Mars 1 lost communication before reaching Mars. A crash on Mars was possible. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures.
 In 1964 NASA’s Mariner 3 lost communication before reaching Mars. A crash on Mars was possible. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures.
 Also in 1964 the Soviet Union’s Zond 2 lost communication before reaching Mars. A crash on Mars was possible. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures.

These missions were all before the 1967 treaty concerning “Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space.”

 In 1971 NASA’s Mariner 9 was put into orbit around Mars. It was not subject to any planetary protection procedures. Will its orbit decay to the point that it crashes on Mars before we have found evidence of life of any kind on Mars?

 Also in 1971 the Soviet Union’s Mars 2 was launched to Mars. We do know that it, in fact, did crash on Mars. Mars 2 also contained on orbiter. Will its orbit decay to the point that it crashes on Mars before we have found evidence of life of any kind on Mars? The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, for these two vehicles is unknown.

 And again in 1971, Mars 3, another Soviet mission, achieved mankind’s first successful landing on Mars (carrying a tethered rover). Mars 3 also contained an orbiter, which may have crashed on Mars. The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, for these two vehicles is unknown.

 In 1973 the Soviet Union’s Mars 5 achieved Mars orbit. Will its orbit decay to the point that it crashes on Mars before we have found evidence of life of any kind on Mars? The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, is unknown.

 Also in 1973 the Soviet Union’s Mars 6 did crash on Mars. The craft did provide the first direct scientific measurements of the Martian atmosphere as it descended. The extent of planetary protection measures, if any, is unknown.

 In 1975 NASA landed two spacecraft on Mars, Viking 1 and 2. They were subject to the equivalent of category 4 Planetary Protection Measues.

 In 1988 the Soviet Union launched Phobos 1 and 2. Both missions were lost and both orbits will decay and the spacecraft will crash on Mars within 50 million years, perhaps sooner. I don’t know what Planetary Protection Measures were used, if any.

 In 1992 NASA Mars Observer (an orbiter) was launched. Contact was lost in 1993, and the craft may have eventually crashed on Mars. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 1997 NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 Also in 1997 NASA’s Global Surveyor arrived at Mars. Global Surveyor achieved Mars orbit by aero-braking in the atmosphere of Mars. It was planned to raise it’s orbit near end of mission in order to prevent any near term orbit decay and crash on Mars, but the craft failed before this was accomplished. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 1998 Mars Climate Orbiter crashed on Mars. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 1999 NASA’s Mars Polar Lander was lost on entering the Martian atmosphere. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2002 NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft used aero-braking to enter Mars orbit. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2003 the European Space Agency’s Beagle crashed on Mars. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 Also in 2003 NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spacecraft – Spirit and Opportunity – landed on Mars. They used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2006 NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using aero-braking entered Mars orbit. It used Category 3 Planetary Protection Measures.

 In 2008 NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars. It used Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures.

I think that's about 25 spacecraft that have landed, crashed, may have crashed, may crash someday on Mars. or that used aero-braking in the Martian atmosphere. I may have forgotten some. These craft were launched over nearly a 50 year period, by three different national entities, with changing planetary protection criteria.

I would find it hard to believe that there have not already been a number of instances in which spacecraft have interacted with Mars without Category 4 Planetary Protection Measures. Even in those cases where such measures were taken (six I believe), may there not have been other slip-ups, known and unknown, announced and unannounced?

4. In the (in my opinion) very unlikely event that biological contamination of Mars has not occurred from spacecraft interacting with Mars, I find it even harder to imagine that sometime in the last four billion years something didn’t happen to transport Earthly life to Mars, whether from impacts or some other process.

As many as 100 Martian meteorites have been found on Earth. Obviously only the tiniest fraction of such meteorites have been found. Only about 1% of all meteorites currently landing on Earth are found. Meteorites that landed long ago are found at much lower rates. I think that suggests there must have been many millions of Martian meteorites that have impacted Earth.

The process may not be as robust going the other way, but it must surely have happened in the thousands at least. The study “Dynamics of escaping Earth ejecta and their collision probability with different Solar System bodies” by M. Reyes-Ruiz. Et al suggests that for certain types of impacts on Earth, the probability of ejecta landing on Mars is about 50% of that of landing on the Moon.

So. Don’t worry. Enjoy life.

Hear hear!
:clap:

R.A.F.
2011-Dec-03, 02:45 AM
I'm not much on conspiracies or other such riff raff.;)


This incident raises another question for me: If they're really trying to find evidence for an independent abiogenesis event why would project managers make such a decision? It doesn't seem so much a "slip up" as it seems purposeful.


Notice the boldened portion...sure looks like you were considering a conspiracy (of some sort) to me...


You didn't change your mind just because I agreed with you...did you??

A.DIM
2011-Dec-04, 10:17 PM
Notice the boldened portion...sure looks like you were considering a conspiracy (of some sort) to me...

You didn't change your mind just because I agreed with you...did you??

What pray tell would the "conspiracy" be?

SamCashion
2011-Dec-04, 11:38 PM
What pray tell would the "conspiracy" be?


This incident raises another question for me: If they're really trying to find evidence for an independent abiogenesis event why would project managers make such a decision? It doesn't seem so much a "slip up" as it seems purposeful.
Well, it would be hard to contend that this statement above here isn't suggesting a conspiracy. "purposeful" - there. How is that not suggesting that they're conspiring (for some reason)?

But yeah, my guess is that the person that made the call just doesn't take planetary protection very seriously.

A.DIM
2011-Dec-04, 11:50 PM
Well, it would be hard to contend that this statement above here isn't suggesting a conspiracy. "purposeful" - there. How is that not suggesting that they're conspiring (for some reason)?

But yeah, my guess is that the person that made the call just doesn't take planetary protection very seriously.

That would be my take: planetary protection protocols are not taken seriously. I'd say it was more a blatant disregard of procedure than indicative of any conspiracy.

SamCashion
2011-Dec-05, 12:18 AM
Oh, ok, good. Cause I was gonna say, that would have been quite the long shot!

Might it be a contentious subject in NASA? The relevance of planetary protection, that is?

Tuckerfan
2011-Dec-05, 05:21 AM
In addition to the points Bobunf raised, the Russians have admitted that some of the probes were probably not all that well decontaminated before they were sent to Mars and potentially have contaminated the planet.

SamCashion
2011-Dec-05, 05:36 AM
I doubt the microbes would survive in that environment without going dormant quickly. Isn't that what happens to extremophiles in a near-vacuum like the 1/100 atmospheric pressure of Mars?

A.DIM
2011-Dec-05, 02:33 PM
I doubt the microbes would survive in that environment without going dormant quickly. Isn't that what happens to extremophiles in a near-vacuum like the 1/100 atmospheric pressure of Mars?

I think it's been shown a variety of extremophiles can survive vaccum (eg. tardigrades) and other hazards of space, as well as in Mars analogs here on Earth.

Here's a recent study: A wide variety of putative extremophiles and large beta diversity at the Mars Desert Research Station (Utah) (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8286799).

Personally I think we vastly underestimate the hardiness of life in the universe.

SamCashion
2011-Dec-05, 06:43 PM
I'm aware that certain microbes can survive in a vacuum for a considerably long amount of time, but I'm fairly sure that they have to go into a dormant state to do that.