Scientists Discuss the Possibility of Microbes Thriving In Martian Dust

At the recent Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C, experts discussed whether microbes can really survive the radiation and lack of water on the red planet.

At the summit, NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer Lisa Pratt suggested that future exploratory missions should focus on the possibility of biological agents in the Martian soil, to which Jim Rice, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, added, “Life as we know it probably would do poorly in the radiation-filled Red Planet environment, which is exacerbated by the lack of a magnetic field that would have reduced exposure levels on the surface. It’s hard to say there’s no life. You can’t search every square millimeter on the surface.”

Research has proven that most, if not all, of the water on the Martian surface vanished billions of years ago as a result of its atmosphere eroding due to solar radiation. This led to the planet having no magnetic field to defend it from the onslaught of charged particles. In 2017, NASA’s Curiosity rover found evidence of ancient traces of water, and molecules and organic matter associated with life on the planet.

While the presence of microorganisms in the Martian dust are not established, NASA is working on spacesuits for manned missions to the Moon and Mars. Lindsay Aitchison, of NASA’s Human Landing System program, explains that these suits are designed to keep dust away from the astronauts as much as possible. “On Mars, the issue is more that the dust is chemically reactive and contains a potentially toxic compound called perchlorate — not in huge quantities, but in large enough concentrations that it could pose a concern for astronaut health,” Aitchison explains.

Aitchison concluded that spacesuits for Mars and Lunar missions will have the ‘same core architecture’ and will facilitate life support or can be used as pressure garments. Although, depending on the location that the astronauts are visiting, the design may differ. However, this will reduce cost and complexity of future missions as the suits would still share some part of the system.

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