Remember the Prime Directive on “Star Trek?” You know, that pesky Federation law that Captain Kirk often had to ‘bend,’ which was supposed to prevent humans from altering the natural development of an alien civilization?
In case you missed it, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted ‘definitive evidence’ of liquid salty water on Mars… not from millions of years ago… but right now!
Reconnaissance snapped photos showing dark streaks ‘seeping’ down Martian slopes, and the streaks have been changing size depending on the surface temperature.
Well of course, you’d think we should now refocus all of our Martian exploration efforts where this water is. Right?
Well, it turns out, NASA’s got it’s own Prime Directive, and it’s called the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty.
This pesky treaty mostly talks about the peaceful exploration of space, but Article IX briefly addresses the protection of other planets:
“States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination…”
So it’s like we’ve got to wash our hands, before first sitting down to dinner with any Martians we might find.
And the problem is… we haven’t thoroughly washed our hands.
Article IX is a Bummer
When NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover landed on Mars back in 2012, it wasn’t totally sterilized from all Earth microbes. Turns out, that’s extremely difficult and ‘expensive’ to do.
Most likely, there are some tough Terran microbial hitchhikers cruising with Curiosity on Mars today.
And if Curiosity did come across any form of Martian life, we wouldn’t want to contaminate it with our own micro bugs.
(Note the ending from H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”)
So even if Curiosity could be redirected to check out this discovery,
(Which the rover can’t get to…the slopes are too steep.)
…Curiosity is banned from this new ‘forbidden zone,’ because of Article IX!
That’s right… We spent billions of dollars to send robots up there to look for life, and when we finally find a place that’s actually got some water, where there’s a stronger chance of finding life, we can’t… because we didn’t spend enough money to sterilize our gear to protect the Martians.
And guess what?
It looks like we’ve got the same problem with the next Mars rover mission in 2020.
I think we 21st century humans needs a little dose of Captain Kirk’s 23rd century explorative ‘joie de vivre’ right about now…
Searching for Life… from Afar
I really don’t get it…
Isn’t there an inherent problem with the design of all this?
If we’re trying to find life on Mars, shouldn’t we be able to go to the places where there’s a greater chance of some actual life?
Yes, it’s lovely to see all of those nifty pictures from the surface of Mars, but come on!!
I don’t typically end my posts with more questions than answers, but I’m a little stumped.
Yes, I understand NASA doesn’t have the money or technology to send up a totally “clean” mission to Mars…but there’s got to be some way to figure this all out.
And haven’t we already contaminated the Red Planet with our Mars exploration to date?
What would the Prime Directive and Mr. Spock have to say about that…?