As prospects of a Mars sample return mission or even a manned mission to Mars are becoming increasingly realistic, the danger of biological invasions from space or, on the other hand, the danger of contaminating other celestial bodies with terrestrial microbes attracts more of the scientific community’s attention.
There are obviously reasons to worry. There are many examples from the past when a microbe, plant, or animal virtually harmless in its original habitat caused havoc when transferred to another continent, like rabbits in Australia or recently, a germ decimating the population of North American bats. Even the indigenous inhabitants of America suffered the consequences of being exposed to European diseases such as smallpox or measles.
There is no doubt that if such a newcomer was a completely alien entity to the terrestrial environment, the consequences would be impossible to predict. To understand what is being done to prevent a possible outbreak of “space fever,” or an invasion of “space parasites,” Space Safety Magazine interviewed one of the leading experts in the field.
Margaret Race is an ecologist and a planetary protection expert from the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI). Based in California’s Silicon Valley, SETI Institute is a nonprofit organization that aims to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe.