Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Report: Reduce contamination restrictions for some future Mars missions

A new policy paper from the National Academies has proposed reducing the planetary protection rules for some future Mars missions, concluding that Earth life cannot survive on Mars for long, and as long as a lander or rover does not land close to cave entrances or on extensive ice, the need to decontaminate is significantly reduced. From the press release:

In this report, the Committee focused on regions on Mars that might not be negatively impacted if visited by spacecraft that are not stringently sterilized. For missions that do not access the subsurface, such regions could include a significant portion of the surface of Mars, because the UV environment is so biocidal that terrestrial organisms are, in most cases, not likely to survive more than one to two sols, or Martian days. For missions that access the subsurface (down to 1 meter), regions on Mars expected to have patchy or no water ice below the surface might also be visited by spacecraft more relaxed bioburden requirements, because such patchy ice is likely not conducive to the proliferation of terrestrial microorganisms.

The report finds that it is imperative that any mission sent to Mars with reduced bioburden requirements remain some conservative distance from any subsurface access points, such as cave openings. Furthermore, though less stringent than current requirements, these missions with relaxed bioburden requirements would still need some level of cleanliness, which could be achieved for instance using standard aerospace cleanliness practices.

The report essentially concluded that missions to Mars’ dry equatorial regions as well as its glacial mid-latitudes pose no risk to contaminating the red planet with Earth life.

While the press release pushes the idea that this is a reduction in the planetary protection rules, it could be seen in a much worse light. Based on the proposed rules, missions to the Martian poles or higher latitudes, where ice is extensive and not “patchy,” might be entirely forbidden. This will significantly limit Martian exploration by the United States. Meanwhile, China and Russia and others will be faced with no such restrictions.

Note too that this report likely forbids SpaceX from landing its Starship in the company’s candidate landing sites, all of which are in the northern lowland plains ranging from 35 to 40 degrees north latitude. This region is thought to have extensive ice sheets very close to the surface. To land there, the rules proposed will either require extremely strict and very costly decontamination procedures, many of which do not even exist as yet, or will forbid landing there at all.


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  • Kevin

    Why do we care if we we bring Earth life to Mars?

    Your point about non-US countries is the most important. The US bureaucrats can make all the rules they like, China and other do no have to follow them.

  • Max

    Earth has abundance of organisms that live in extreme environmental conditions. If such a life form, without any natural predators or restrictions on growth, be released accidentally… It could possibly spread and contaminate the entire planet.
    Such a life form could be evasively hostile to human life and habitation causing in surmountable problems for any future settlements.
    It would take aggressive decontamination procedures or friendly release of “bio agents” to attack and keep the “unfriendly contamination” at bay… But that could take hundreds of years, if at all, to get the infestation under control. At this point Mars would have begun being terraformed… whether it needs it or not.
    The space station currently has a growth on the “outside of the craft” that has NASA and the science community worried… Or hopeful as the Z man pointed out.
    “While these findings likely mean an increase in the cost for sterilizing future planetary probes, they also mean that fungi will be available for future space travelers for the production of antibiotics, food, and other useful items”

    I have a suggestion for an efficient non-toxic decontamination chamber before the airlock.
    Mars atmosphere is 7 millibars, the point at which water boils in extreme cold.
    A returning dust contaminated martian will enter the DC which will slightly pressurize and begin “car wash” style spray off with warm hydrogen peroxide. (mostly, UV treated water solution) The dirt goes down the drain to be filtered out and the fluid recycled.
    Then “heating elements” will quickly boil the remaining fluid which is vented from chamber for recycling.
    This can also be accomplished by reducing the air pressure to 5 millibars instantly boiling any remaining moisture to water vapor. (any uninsulated surface will collect the water vapor as it flash freezes like it does on your home freezer evaporator coil’s)

    When leaving the habitation, the same hydrogen peroxide solution can decontaminate microscopic biologicals from the suit and items such as tools, so nothing inside can be transferred outside.
    I don’t think this process will be necessary on the moon, or mercury. Titans atmosphere may be hostile to all life forms… carbon dioxide atmospheres of Mars and Venus will encourage life and so must be treated with caution.

  • Max and all: Note that the desire to prevent contamination of Mars by these academics has very little to do with protecting Mars or future colonists. Their interest is almost solely focused on keeping out Earth life so that its presence will not confuse the issue should future probes discover any life at all, possible Martian in origin.

    Their interest is solely academic.

  • Andrew_W

    Max: “The space station currently has a growth on the “outside of the craft” that has NASA and the science community worried… Or hopeful as the Z man pointed out.”

    I saw no such claim. The claim was that there might be fungal spores on the outside, with fungal growth on the inside. Spores are like seeds, they don’t do any growing until the environment is suitable for growth.

    My position on the possibility of life being introduced from Earth is that it’s inevitable and though efforts to detect any endemic Martian life are important, they should be done early with no expectations that the existence of that life should bar human settlement of Mars.

  • David Eastman

    Max wrote:

    “Such a life form could be evasively hostile to human life and habitation causing in surmountable problems for any future settlements.”

    Possibly a real concern, but not one that these agencies really care about. If you read their literature or talk to them, they’re solely concerned about “despoiling the pristine Martian ecosphere.” For some, its just a principle, for others, it’s all about protecting the ability to do science. Pointing out that once humans start living on a planet, all this goes out the window just makes them want to try and prevent humans from ever getting there. So many scientists view science as its own end, not as a goal to letting humanity accomplish things.

  • Mike Borgelt

    I’m in the “there is no life on Mars and never was camp”. It is time there was. That’s our job – bring life and love and laughter and tears to the Universe.

  • Max

    Humans are going to Mars!
    Point taken.
    What the academics want… will not hold much weight if a valuable resource is found.
    The race between China, Russia, United States and other players will be turtle slow compared the billionaire playboy club if a shiny new toy is discovered. Some of these companies have more money than most nations.
    I expect that the moon and certain astroids will be the prime target in the short run so that gives breathing room to the academics if they get sponsors, Instruments and lobbyists together to push the government out of the way. If not? The billionaires will hire them to be in their entourage of scientists, pilots, engineers and security personnel. They never leave home without them.

    We carry contamination inside our bodies everywhere we go.
    Murphy’s Law says if there’s a chance an accident can happen, then it will happen.

    In 2014, Congress passed a law forbidding any more “gain of function research” inside the United States because there were so many unintended accidents occurring. The CDC reported on average, one major incident every week. Some of the biologically modified releases were significant, and had the capability of sterilizing the earth.

    If “life” is found on Mars, the unknown unknowns have profound consequences. Let’s hope it doesn’t end like a sci-fi horror film.

  • pawn

    “Let’s hope it doesn’t end like a sci-fi horror film.”

    “The End?”

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