Univ. of Idaho research shows humans could be contaminating Mars

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by TAYLOR VIYDO & KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on June 19, 2014 at 8:35 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 19 at 8:38 AM

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Researchers at the University of Idaho have been looking into whether or not humans could have contaminated the planet Mars.

The researchers are working with NASA and look at bacteria collected from a Mars rover. Specifically, the researchers are trying to figure out what impacts the Mars rover could have on the red planet.

On Wednesday, Dr. Stephanie Smith and her team of researchers looked at organisms that were collected from the Mars Curiosity Rover before it made the trip into outer space. They found more than 300 different types of bacteria. Eleven percent of those bacteria were able to survive extreme conditions, according to their research. That included different temperatures and exposure to radiation. Smith said the bacteria could pose a threat to Mars’ pristine environment.

"So if we're going to go to mars to look for life, we want to make sure that what we're looking for isn't life that came from earth,” said Smith.

Smith said such a possiblilty was a potential violation of the outer space treaty that was signed by the U.S. and other countries in the 60s. Her team’s work has already received national recognition.

Smith's fellow researchers said their team's work revolves around a question of morals and making sure that humans were not contaminating another planet.

"I'm a believer that we do need to be doing this research because there's ethics involved,” said student Alissa Tenuto. "We're not just protecting earth, we're protecting all the planets all the time.”

Smith said her team might study how some of the same organisms would survive onboard the International Space Station in the future.
 

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