Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster May Contaminate Planet Mars With Bacteria From Earth

SpaceX 'starman' flies by earth in Tesla roadster
Scientists at Purdue University think that Elon's Musk's Tesla car currently in orbit around the sun was not sterilized before it was launched into space. What could happen if it contaminated Mars?   ( SpaceX | Getty Images )

Elon Musk's bright red convertible was launched into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in early February with the mannequin passenger Starman and some mementos from Earth.

Despite the excitement this generated, some scientists are not amenable of sending a car into orbit around the sun. Some fear that the car, which brings along with it the largest amount of bacteria from Earth to ever enter space, may also contaminate Mars.

Planetary Protection Protocols

NASA follows strict guidelines to ensure all hardware sent into space or designed to land on other planets is completely sterile before these are launched. The U.S. space agency also observed measures to prevent contamination.

The Cassini spacecraft, for instance, was deliberately terminated despite being still serviceable. This is to comply to the so-called planetary protection protocols aimed to minimize the risk of depositing earthly microbes into an environment where these living organisms can potentially reproduce.

"Planetary protection is essential for several important reasons: to preserve our ability to study other worlds as they exist in their natural states; to avoid contamination that would obscure our ability to find life elsewhere — if it exists; and to ensure that we take prudent precautions to protect Earth's biosphere in case it does," NASA explained.

Tesla Car In Orbit May Contaminate Mars If Not Sterilized

Scientists at Purdue University, however, think that the car in orbit was not sterilized before it was launch.

"Even if they radiated the outside, the engine would be dirty," Jay Melosh, earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences professor at Purdue University, said. "Cars aren't assembled clean. And even then, there's a big difference between clean and sterile."

Melosh said that while a crash is unlikely, there is a possibility that the Tesla car would land on planet Mars, as it is in an orbit that crosses those of the Red Planet and Earth.

Organisms From Earth

The space is inhospitable for living organisms because of extreme temperatures, cosmic radiations, and low pressure, but it does not kill all organisms. Some just go dormant and wake up again once the conditions are favorable. This means trouble if Musk's car lands on Mars before this world is visited by humans,

"NASA goes to great lengths sterilizing spacecraft designed to land on Mars, in order to make sure there's no chance of Earthly microbes contaminating the surface," said Jason Davis, of The Planetary Society. "Such a contamination could harm existing life and muddle scientific efforts to search for said life."

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