Friday, April 19, 2024

Mars Sample Return and Space Bugs

As a followup of sorts to Monday's post on the Mars Sample Return mission and its problems, reports on an "Astrobiodefense" committee, the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, and their concerns about not just the MSR, but any mission and what it could bring back to Earth. They consider the threat that ecologically-hungry Martian microbes might pose to our biosphere.

The Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense is a privately funded entity established in 2014, set up to evaluate the status of U.S. biodefense efforts and issues recommendations to produce meaningful change.

The only names they associate with the commission are former Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala and Susan Brooks, a former U.S. Attorney and Republican Congresswoman. Of course, Donna Shalala was Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton Administration. Congresswoman Brooks served parts of Indiana. 

While many debate the possibility of advanced, intelligent life elsewhere, few consider the probability of non-intelligent alien microorganisms. These life forms could exist on other planets or moons, hitchhike on spacecraft, or move through the universe in the asteroids they inhabit. 

They could also be Earth microbes that mutate or evolve in response to the stress of spaceflight, becoming more virulent, resistant, or invasive. Either would seriously threaten the public health, safety, and security of humans, animals, and plants operating in space or living on Earth," they noted.

To be honest, it was something I thought about when the samples from asteroid Bennu were returned to Earth back in September, and then it turned out the sample container wasn't as well sealed as they may have wanted. That meant if there was a bad organism in that partially sealed container, it would have been released before the sample container was opened. 

Perhaps you might remember The Andromeda Strain, a big seller book early in the career of Michael Crichton and a popular movie in the early '70s. It was the first book of his I read, around 9th or 10th grade. The source of the bug that killed off the town was a satellite that was supposed to capture potential bioweapons high in the atmosphere and hit the ground in this town. A long way of saying the idea of something like this happening has been around a while.

Shalala and Brooks state that the U.S. needs to invest in research and development of new technologies and medical countermeasures to detect, diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases in space and on Earth.

Furthermore, there is need to enhance our bio-surveillance and symptom monitoring to track and analyze space-related biological threats in real time.

“We need to strengthen our coordination and collaboration between agencies and partners, both nationally and internationally," they continue, "to share information and resources without compromising the kinds of competition that result in scientific advances and economic gains."

Early in the Andromeda Strain movie ('71), two researchers recover the capsule that brought back a bug that killed off the small town where it came to the ground. Image published at IMDB.

Let's just say the last few years have dramatically altered the general likelihood that people will want to give much power to the the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. 


  1. Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain is the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this.

  2. At least let us hope that this commission doesn't have its own secret lab and an atom bomb.....

    A couple of years ago I would have laughed at the thought. Now, I just merely chuckle.

  3. Members of Congress posit microorganisms which inhabit asteroids coming from outside the solar system, life which is biochemically similar enough to infect us, and then not notice that implies life didn't originate on Earth.

  4. And yet, the possibility of life only originating on Earth is not as far fetched as many think.

    A habitable planet in the right orbital zone with the right gravity (too much or too little makes some chemical reactions, that contribute to life, act differently.)

    A habitable-zone planet with a strong magnetic field that allows the formation of a radiation belt that serves as a screen against a lot of harmful radiation.

    A habitable planet with an atmosphere thick enough that small to medium debris burns up before hitting the lower atmosphere or the ground.

    A habitable planet with just the right amounts of various elements and not an overabundance of toxic or too-radioactive elements.

    A planetary system where one or more of the Jovians started out close in to the star and then moved out to the middle to outer orbits, thus clearing up the orbits from a lot of space debris.

    A planetary system where one or more Jovians are large enough and in the right orbits to intercept most of the incoming space debris.

    A planetary system where the gravitational 'tides' cause the formation of outside-normal-orbits 'clouds' that also tend to suck up incoming space debris.

    That's a lot of 'coincidences' that add up, along with a host of other little things that allowed life as we know it to exist here on this planet.

    Eh, potential 'life' on Mars or other places that are swept by solar and cosmic radiation at levels that the brains are telling us would kill Earth life (including or viruses and bacteria) coming back to Earth to mutate or kill us all? I'll worry about a planetary killer of a space rock first.

    Still, yeah, like the advert for 'Come to Earth, Here We Are' on the Voyagers, well, wish someone would have paid attention a tad bit better.

    As to 'Wildfire Labs,' the existence of them can neither be confirmed nor denied.

    As to 'The Andromeda Strain,' the reason for its existence extra terrestrially in the book, revealed in the end, is a curious and interesting idea. Let's hope nobody 'out there' have thought about something like it.

  5. To add to your list, (grabbed from
    Earth is the only planet that has a single moon... In many ways, the Moon is responsible for making Earth such a great home. It stabilizes our planet's wobble, which has made the climate less variable over thousands of years.


    1. And it's slowed our rotation, allowing for, well, 24 hours rather than an hour for rotation. That slow on-off light cycle is one of the big contributing factors to life here.

      That and the ebb and flow of the tides, which keep the oceans from stagnating and aids in weather patterns that allow water to flow over the lands.

      So many things required to allow life to start here on this planet. Sure, we can carry life out away from Earth, and in that respect we are the new Prometheus carrying the Light of Life wherever we go.

      Crazy, isn't it? A series of coincidences and outright lucky chances that all add up to winning the Powerball a thousand times in the row using the same numbers, that result in life here. And, so far, nowhere else.

  6. If their lips are moving they are lying. Look at from another perspective, its not to stop the potential spread, rather it is if there is a dangerous micro organism this is an act to obtain and fully secure critical control for potential bio-weapons purposes. In other-words cover. Clown World doing its clown world crap. Remember they want to kill off all us useless eaters and so far nothing has stopped them from perpetrating acts of mass murder death thru wars and genocide.
    It is what global domination game criminals do, thru subverting and inverting all the things.

  7. We find life everywhere. In every environment. Every nook and cranny life is there. More and more, it looks like the God Particle is behind it, the spark which begins life, works in mysterious ways. Thing to keep in mind is everything ultimately is simply made if light, it is all light, why not light is alive? And thats "Source", GOD if one prefers. It can not at the least be ruled out. We see nothing is impossible. Right now James Web Telescope is revealing things which completely alter the basis of Einsteinian Space, (things which have altered all sorts of theories, and one step further out there are no theories to explain such. E='s MC Squared fails to account for these things). Quantum theory certainly hints at the possibilities, in some ways, in the ultimate sense, why not? May be it is the grand unifying theory.