Martian Life
return it to earth?

A   
few days ago, I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio) which was interviewing an astronaut and taking Q's from the audience at large. One caller asked how NASA could safely bring back from Mars an unknown life form in view of the fact that many NASA missions end in catastrophic failure. The astronaut/politician could not express a direct opinion. He simply reiterated a canned response that such a failure was unlikely and when the possible life form was returned to Earth, it would be quarantined like the first astronauts who went to the moon.

He never managed an acceptable answer to an extremely pressing question. NASA fully plans to send a mission to Mars, scoop up some likely life bearing dirt and return it to Earth ... robotically, i.e. before men have actually gone there first.

They intend to expose the entire planet to a possible Martian Pandemic that could take out half the Earth's population (or worse).

But scientists are a very careful lot

Sure they are. When it comes to advancing knowledge, they are very careful indeed. However, a scientist's priorities are far different from the average man's. Their chief goal is to protect the experiment. Observe their worries about contaminating the huge lake under the Antarctic ice and how they plan to "not contaminate" in the future the Jovian satellite ... Europa. Alien life forms must be protected ... for scientific study. Human life on earth is expendable in their view (it requires no undue protection) ... well, at least it's worth risking ... because ... they could learn so much from such a shovel full of Mars dirt. And learning new stuff is La Cosa Nostra in the science fraternity.

Hey, it's a very small risk factor. And ... they actually make calculations of the probability of catastrophic failure of the mission. And ... they actually think that such calculations are POSSIBLE. Of course, such failure probabilities are logically laughable. They calculated the probably loss stats for the shuttles and ... well ... let's all laugh together.

Newsflash
You can't calculate probabilities without
information upon which to base those calculations

That's why the Drake Equation is so "loose". You can imagine just about anything for some of its parameters. With possible Martian life ... we have no info at all. We don't know anything about its possible dangers or benefits to man.

The only prudent course here is extreme caution.

No Martian organism (alive) is going to come here by any but the most extraordinary means. It is subject to the same laws of celestial mechanics as are rockets. It won't come here ... unless ... we bring it. The best course here then is to send men to Mars and let them find the life (if it is indeed there). Let them be exposed to any possible dangers and see if they get sick and die from some new unpredicted Mars Flu. If men continuously go to Mars without ill effects from Martian life forms ... then ... can we bring it back here for study?

Hell, no.

Even if we are resistant to any Mars organism, we don't know what Earth life forms might not be immune. Suppose that only plankton get Mars Flu and die. Is that OK? You see where I'm going here. If some vital link in the food chain is disrupted ... we die anyway ... indirectly.

Life from Mars can never be brought back to Earth till all reasonable possibilities for disaster have been logically eliminated. This means ... a few centuries of continuous study ... at least. Of course, scientists will decry such a setback as Luddism but the Luddites were opposed to advances that threatened their livelihood ... not their lives.

I am fully in favor of manned Mars exploration

People as individuals are completely expendable. We get expended by the tens of millions every year. But the human race as a whole is not expendable ... by definition. Let those astronauts who want, go to Mars and be our guinea pigs/scientists. We'll watch it all transpire on the TV from a safe and sage distance.

By all means, let's get up a colony on Mars. I've several reasons for doing so. It's an important thing to do ... just ... hose 'em down real good with disinfectant before they get back here. Or, better yet ... let 'em just stay there permanently. Do you think anyone would be willing to go to a Mars colony and never come back? You bet your rear end. You'd have to beat them off with a truncheon.

But we'd be losing time waiting for the colonization of Mars

What if some new Martian organism could be used in the fight against cancer? This old laugher doesn't work here any better than on Earth. If you expect to get Martian organisms to help out with our medical problems, better to go to the rain forest before it is gone. There are many more organisms there than on Mars. And ... they have the same genetic form as all other Earth based life and so, can interact with us in unusual ways. If there is life on Mars ... and it developed independently of the Earth ... it may not be at all like our setup. Hence, it's most likely that it won't help OR harm us. But we just don't know yet.

Life on Mars has been patiently waiting there for millions of years and will be more than happy to wait a few more centuries before returning our visit. Just last nite, I was listening to sub-space chatter on my tricorder and heard a Martian germ saying "@%)!%#$&&*(" which translated means ... "WEAREBORGRESISTANCEISFUTILE". So, better watch out, says I.

I developed a simple equation myself some time ago. It concerns what we should do in situations where costs and benefits are pitted against each other. You divide by negative parameters and multiply by positive elements in the decision.


B/R (Benefits / Risks)
______________   [x,/]   P (success Probability ) 
 
 C (Dollar Cost)


= D (the decision: least is no, most is yes)

Here we weigh the benefits (positives) versus the risks (negatives) and divide that by the cost of the project which is always a negative to some extent, i.e. a "good buy" is still negative since it still isn't free. Then we either multiply or divide by the probability of a successful mission depending on whether B/R is greater than 1 (benefit) or less than 1 (risky). Obviously, if the risk is greater than the benefit, a high probability of a successful mission would be a negative requiring a division ... get it? A decision is based on the size of the number. Lower is no good ... higher is better. I understand that it's pretty subjective. Nevertheless, that's what we're doing in the background of our subconscious whenever we make decisions.

This is a serious matter.

If it were known that bacterial or viral life existed on Mars and was presently viable ... and ... scientists still wanted to bring back some to the Earth ... I would advocate civil war to prevent it. But I don't think it would go that far. Scientists will always back down when confronted with crude physical force. They have been wimping out since Galileo and I don't expect that trend to ever change.



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