Engineers swab the Curiosity rover’s heat shield to test its cleanliness.
Credit: NASA

Can Hitchhiking Earth Microbes Thrive on Mars?

By John Matson | February 7, 2013

LOS ANGELES—When the Curiosity rover lifted off toward Mars, the spacecraft carried a few stowaways—278,000 bacterial spores, by NASA’s best estimate. That is sparkling clean, by spacecraft standards—the mission’s components had been sterilized, wiped, baked and coddled in clean rooms to drastically reduce the bacterial burden.

Mars missions such as Curiosity are subject to strict planetary protection policies intended to preserve habitats in the solar system that might harbor life of their own. After all, invasive species are a big enough problem on Earth, and one can only speculate about how terrestrial microorganisms would fare on Mars.

Read more: Can Hitchhiking Earth Microbes Thrive on Mars? | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network.

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