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NASA Identifies Gaps In Containing Biological Contamination

First Posted: Dec 01, 2016 04:00 AM EST
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People still don't know how to keep astronauts safe for a Mars mission, but NASA was able to identify at least 25 gaps of knowledge to address the problem.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Getty Images)

More and more, science is pointing at the possibility of man on Mars, with researchers working out the glitches of space travel. However, despite the Matt Damon movie, The Martian, it is technically not yet within our reach to have men live on the Red Planet. For instance, scientists still have to work out how astronauts can live, work and even socialize during the long, arduous journey. Most importantly, scientists are concerned once they land -- how astronauts can avoid contamination.

Over a hundred researchers convened at a three-day summit last year to help identify the risks and be able to explore solutions. As the Christian Science Monitor noted, NASA has implemented protocols to specifically minimize the said biological contamination for each of their missions, but none of these protocols are specific requirements for Mars travel.

Catharine Conley, a planetary protection officer from NASA, told Space.com that, "The benefit of having humans in space is that they're much more flexible than robots, but they could contaminate Mars with Earth life."

So far, around 25 gaps in knowledge was found by researchers regarding inter-planetary biological contamination during human space missions. These gaps are said to overarch in three main areas: monitoring microbes and health, investigating how contaminants travel in Mars and technology and strategies to help control the said contamination.

More than this, the researchers also noted the knowledge gaps with regard to diagnosing and treating crew members in case of exposure to microbes, and how they can get safe and effective microbial disinfectants.

Despite the challenges, Conley noted that just a decade ago, technology to even analyze microbiomes was not well established. Today, the International Space Station even has devices with microbial monitoring capabilities.

There is much to be understood about the Red Planet before humans can be considered "equipped" to conquer it. As Conley noted, "Recent findings that are coming back from the robotic rovers we have on Mars are giving us hints that the Martian environment is not understood in detail to the level we would want. For instance, bleach flying in the dust in Mars is potentially a human health hazard."

Still, by closing these knowledge gaps, people can find a way to establish clear guidelines to help protect humans in missions beyond the Earth's orbit.

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