Behind the Spacecraft: Protecting Mars from Earth Bacteria
When NASA's Perseverance rover travels to Mars to search for signs of life, it's important that the spacecraft doesn't bring along any Earth bacteria. That's why NASA-JPL scientist Moogega Stricker is ensuring that the Mars rover is free and clear of microbial stowaways. So if we ever do find life on Mars, we'll be sure that it didn't originate on Earth.
Follow Perseverance's journey to Mars: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020
It's really important that we send a rover that's clean and we make sure that it doesn't contaminate Mars. My name is Moogega Stricker and I protect Mars from Earth bacteria. The next Mars rover is slated to go to Mars, collect samples, so that eventually we can bring those samples back to Earth and determine for the very first time, did life exist on Mars? There's nothing that we can build that's sterile, so we take swabs and wipes of the spacecraft as it's being built. It gets put in an oven, it gets put in various chambers and clean rooms so that we can maintain that level of cleanliness. If we do find something on Mars we have to make sure it's something that actually came from Mars and not something that hitched a ride. This is the place where the magic happens. Oh it's definitely a colony. In this lab we look specifically at spores. So spores are those hardy microorganisms that can actually survive if it made it on the spacecraft on the journey through space, through the vacuum. It's very humbling to be a part of this big project because there are hundreds of people that have to come together and build a spacecraft. There is no one person that can say, "I did this, I made this happen." It's always a "we." I owe it all to Carl Sagan and watching the Cosmos. I remember being a little kid going to the public library and renting that VHS and from that moment the light bulb turned on. It actually was a start of my passion of science communication. We are citizens of our universe, we have to be good ambassadors when we are exploring other planets, other moons. So it's the right thing to do.
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