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With the Curiosity rover due to touch down on Mars within weeks, eyes will be focused on the red planet—including those of NASA scientist Catharine Conley.

Conley is NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer, and her job is to ensure that astronauts and robots that leave our planet don’t bring back nasty extra-terrestrial bugs that could potentially wipe out life on Earth. Since man started blasting rockets into space, the problem of viruses and potentially hazardous forms of life hasn’t been relegated to Earth.

“We’re not going to be sending humans tomorrow,” she says, “but technology development takes a long time and we have to think about doing this now. I’m always monitoring technologies that are coming up and asking: can we adapt this technology to be used in spaceflight?”

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