Reasons to Believe

Survival of Earth-life on Mars

NASA expends considerable effort to ensure any life-detecting spacecraft they send to Mars do not, themselves, contaminate Mars with Earth-life. At every phase of the mission multiple steps are taken to sterilize all the equipment.

As I noted in a previous post on this subject, in one instance, NASA scientists applied special measurements using genetic multiplication to one of the spacecraft after it was “supposedly” decontaminated and ready to be sent on its way. These “tests showed the presence of at least 26,000 cells per square meter of area in the lab representing about 100 kinds of bacteria just before its launch in August, 2007.”1 This occurrence resulted in even more rigorous efforts to reduce the spacecrafts’ bacterial count, but the probability of some contamination remains.

In more recent years, further research is ongoing at the other end of the “pipe.” Scientists are trying to determine whether any Earth-life that makes the trip to Mars has a chance of surviving the journey or of implanting itself on the surface of the Red Planet. Researchers from the University of Central Florida replicated Mars-like conditions by inducing desiccation (extreme dryness), hypobaria (low ambient air pressure), low temperatures, and UV irradiation. During a week-long study2 they found that potential spacecraft contaminant Escherichia coli may likely survive the journey if shielded from UV irradiation by thin layers of dust, or UV-protected niches in spacecraft. However, E. coli could not grow on Mars’ surface.

“If long-term microbial survival is possible on Mars, then past and future explorations of Mars may provide the microbial inoculum for seeding Mars with terrestrial life,” say the researchers. “Thus, a diversity of microbial species should be studied to characterize their potential for long term survival on Mars.”

As was stated in my previous article, our position at RTB is that some mission to Mars, now or in the future, will, in fact, find life. It will not necessarily be contamination from a man-made spacecraft. Instead, it will have originated from a meteorite blasted off the earth by a large asteroid or comet.

Earth is teaming with life. It is not difficult to show that some of it could have made its way to Mars via an Earth meteorite. In the RTB model, life on Earth came about, not by natural processes, but by the acts of a God who created that life with a purpose.

Subjects: Life on Other Planets

Dr. David Rogstad

Dr. Dave Rogstad received his PhD in physics from Caltech and worked over 30 years for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Though now retired, Dave continues to serve as an RTB board member and participates regularly in several RTB podcasts.

1. Ewen Callaway, “Could Microbes on Phoenix Survive on Mars?” New Scientist (June 6, 2008), http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14071?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=news5_head_dn14071.

2. Bonnie J. Berry, David G. Jenkins, and Andrew C. Schuerger, “Effects of Simulated Mars Conditions on the Survival and Growth of Escherichia coli and Serratia liquefaciens,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 76, no. 8 (April 2010), 2377–86.