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NASA urged to keep microbes from Mars

/ Source: The Associated Press

While Earth germs may not kill attacking Martians as they did in "War of the Worlds," a new study is calling on NASA to prevent contamination of Mars with microbes from our planet.

NASA is planning a return to the Moon and eventually to send manned spacecraft to Mars, and the National Research Council warned Monday that if life forms from Earth were able to survive the trip they could contaminate the Red Planet.

That could interfere with investigations to detect any life that might be native to Mars, said the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report said current methods of cleaning spacecraft eliminate only a fraction of microorganisms.

Since recent studies have indicated water could be present on Mars, there may be locations there that could support life, the report said.

"Ongoing Mars missions have shown that the planet may have environments where some Earth microbes could grow," Christopher F. Chyba, professor of astrophysics at Princeton University, said in a statement.

The report urged NASA to begin new research efforts aimed at preventing contamination of Mars, such as new ways to detect biological molecules and methods of sterilization.