Landing humans on Mars won't wreck the search for life on the Red Planet. That's according to researchers who simulated the impact of a crewed mission to a pristine world by driving across the Canadian Arctic.
Space agencies currently take great care to sterilise spacecraft bound for Mars, to avoid contaminating the planet with Earth microbes that could make it harder to find native Martian life.
But humans are impossible to sterilise. We are crawling with microbes, inside and out, so when we eventually go to Mars the risk of contamination will be high.
Or at least, that's what we had assumed. To find out just how high, Andrew Schuerger of the University of Florida in Gainesville and Pascal Lee of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, took advantage of an Arctic road trip.
During a series of trips between April 2009 and July 2011, Lee was part of a team driving a specialised jeep from mainland Canada to the inhospitable Devon Island, the site of an ongoing simulated Mars mission.
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