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‘Martian Plague’: Bringing Mars Samples to Earth May Cause a Devastating Pandemic, Scientists Warn

While Perseverance rover is rolling over the Red Planet studying its geology and taking fancy selfies with the help of the Ingenuity helicopter, researchers back on Earth are looking forward to welcome and investigating the first Martian soil samples in the upcoming years.

Bringing rocks from the Marian surface to Earth does not seem very exciting to a small group of enthusiasts from The International Committee Against Mars Sample Return (ICAMSR), who warn about incredible risks these life-bearing samples may pose to our home planet, including an immense “Martian plague”.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on The Mars Sample Return Campaign in an effort to bring precious rocks and soil to Earth for detailed tests. They plan to launch a lander in 2026 to pick up samples collected by the Perseverance rover which landed on the Red planet in February. So the Martian soils – including some micro-organisms which potentially inhabit them – may end up on our planet in the next decade.

According to NASA, “returning pristine samples of Mars to Earth has been a goal for generations of planetary scientists.”

Dr. Gilbert Levin is not very enthusiastic about this. The engineer, who was the one investigating NASA’s Viking programme, which ran from 1975 to 1983, told the Daily Star that there is a “real chance” the Red Planet is inhabited by life forms that would leak to Earth, potentially causing a new, devastating pandemic from which we have no defence.

“I fear that, even if a safe Mars Sample Return container could be made and brought to Earth, there is a good probability that some of the sample would escape from the ‘secure’ lab where the container would be opened,” Levin says.

Scientists from ICAMSR express a similar caution, citing legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, who warned about the consequences of the sample-bringing in his 1973 book:

“Precisely because Mars is an environment of great potential biological interest, it is possible that on Mars there are pathogens, organisms which, if transported to the terrestrial environment, might do enormous biological damage…a Martian plague.”

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