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September 12 2012

Curiosity could be carrying Earth bacteria, threatening search for Mars life


When searching for life on another world, the most fundamental precaution that any space agency needs to take with any probe or rover is to ensure it doesn't carry Earth microbes. However, if reports are to be believed, Nasa may have screwed up -- and is hoping that it doesn't find any water when it drills into the Martian soil.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the possible contamination occurred six months before the rover's launch in November 2011. Curiosity's drillbits were designed to be stored in a sealed box, separate from the drill mechanism -- however, a Nasa engineer worried that a rough landing might make assembling the drill on Mars impossible (and thus rendering one of the rover's most important tools impotent), and opened the sealed unit to install one drill bit as a kind of backup. This happened without consulting Nasa's team dedicated to avoiding contaminating Mars with Earth bacteria.

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