Two researchers have concluded that sterilizing spacecraft heading to Mars is largely a waste of money.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Two researchers have concluded that sterilizing spacecraft heading to Mars is largely a waste of money.

As far as Mars is concerned, say Fairén and Schulze-Makuch, such efforts are probably in vain since “Earth life has most likely already been transferred to Mars.” Meteorite impacts have had 3.8 billion years to spread Earth life forms to Mars. Several Earth spacecraft have visited Mars without undergoing the sterilization procedures now in place. If organisms transferred to Mars over the eons failed to survive, modern organisms would likely face the same fate. If they did survive, say Fairén and Schulze-Makuch, “it is too late to protect Mars from terrestrial life, and we can safely relax the planetary protection policies.”

They also note that NASA’s “Office of Planetary Protection is like an interplanetary Environmental Protection Agency” and that its “‘detailed and expensive’ efforts to keep Earth microorganisms off Mars are making missions to search for life on the red planet ‘unviable.’”



  • Kelly Starks

    Anthropologists figure 90% of the folks in North America when the first Euros got here died from child hood deseases that had’t gotten to the new world in the last fewthousand years.

    I’m guessing Mars has less biological contact with us then the Americas had to Europe.

    …also how do you test for life without cleaning the ship of it?

  • However, unlike EPA, the Office of Planetary Protection has been 100% effective in eliminating coal-burning power plants on Mars.

  • Perhaps by exposing them to hard vacuum and radiation for 6 months? Dunno.

  • Pzatchok

    I guess if life is found on Mars it could be tested in the future.

    If its anything close to Earth like organisms then it could have been brought by spacecraft.

    But if genetic testing reveals its a billion years different, then Mars has life.

    But then again how do we know it didn’t originally come from Earth in the first place?

    Either way it just doesn’t matter except to the few scientists who are directly effected by it. Their whole research is based on Mars having evolved its own life.
    In the end if people truly think that we might colonize Mars in the next 500 years then it doesn’t matter. We will contaminate the planet eventually. And we will dominate the planet with our own idea of life.

    If you think we will never colonize Mars then go ahead and try to keep it Earth life form free.

    Its one of those questions that will eventually have to be answered. In the future when we find other planets to live on and set out to colonize them at what level of native life do be make the cut off to not colonize the planet.
    Do we stop at microbes, plants, fish, or just invade and colonize when there is anything less than sentient life?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *