The COVID-19 pandemic has been showing the world the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. Now, NASA wants to bring that lesson to space as it prepares to take humans to the moon and Mars.
For the space agency, everything from spacecraft, to rovers to the boots of astronauts must be cleaner than anything else on Earth before missions to space. NASA wants to avoid contaminating the lunar surface and Mars with germs that could damage the environment, CNN reported Monday.
The agency aims to send its next generation Martian rover, called Perseverance, to the Red Planet in 2021. The mission will explore the Jezero Crater, where a lake potentially existed 3.5 billion years ago.
Perseverance will collect samples from the site and send them back to Earth in the mid-2020s. But before the rover deploys for Mars, one team needs to make sure it remains clean to avoid contaminating Mars.
The NASA team analyzes samples from the spacecraft and puts them in Petri dishes to know how clean the spacecraft is before it leaves Earth. They also look for viable organisms that may live on the skin of astronauts.
“We look for these seeds that certain microbes can produce, and those are the things that would survive the journey in deep space, the harsh environments — that’s why we look for those on our Petri dishes every single day when we swab the spacecraft,” Moogega Cooper, planetary protection lead engineer for the NASA Perseverance mission, said.
He noted that Earth organisms accidently taken to Mars could be confused with fossilized life. Cooper said NASA builds and examines its spacecraft and rovers in a room that is “cleaner than an operating room, cleaner than a lot of the things we interact with.”
Taking Humans To Mars
NASA hopes data from the Perseverance mission will help provide more information on the ancient Mars and see if organisms once lived in the lake. Scientists also expect the mission to guide future human exploration.
“We’re very much thinking about how Mars could be inhabited, how humans could come to Mars and make use of the resources that we have there in the Martian environment today,” Katie Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for the rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said. “We send our robotic scouts first to learn about these other places, hopefully for us to prepare the way for us to go ourselves.”
The space agency expects Perseverance to bring samples from Mars to Earth between 2026 and 2027.