Friday, February 6, 2009


Today on Science Friday, NASA researcher Chris McKay talked about how Terran bacteria have certainly made their way to Mars aboard the various landers that humans have sent there. Such bacteria could possibly survive in a dormant state inside this machinery--in areas shielded from the intense biocidal UV radiation that bombards Mars through its thin, ozone-free atmosphere. But what if... 1) we discover that there is native Martian life (perhaps dormant microbes down in the dirt somewhere), and 2) we somehow warm the planet making it possible for a native Martian biosphere to get started again, and 3) that Terran bacteria from the landers is still hanging around and starts getting all mucked up with the Martian bacteria! McKay says that we would certainly want to first go around and pick up all that old junk from Earth and make sure the place was free of Earth germs before starting the warming of Mars and restoration of its native life.  I got all excited that someone was actually talking pretty seriously about the possible pitfalls of terraforming Mars.  Of course, that's hopelessly far off given the plodding pace of the space program.  What may happen sooner, however, is sending a machine to Mars to drill down under the surface and maybe try to retrieve and return samples to Earth. When you drill under the surface, out of reach of the anti-microbial UV rads, then you run the risk of contaminating the soil if the drill bit (or whatever you'd call it) isn't perfectly sterile. And then those returning samples would have to treated on Earth like ebola virus until they were determined to be safe.

McKay pointed out that we got the Moon all dirty already with the manned missions there, but so what? He says that there is virtually no chance of native lunar life nor any prospect of a biosphere ever being established on the Moon. Well, of course not, I thought.  But...why not? I wonder if the Moon could somehow be terraformed. It's got the advantage of being as close to the sun as we are.  What if it could be endowed with an atmosphere? It's being tidally locked with the Earth and not rotating like a normal planet makes it kind of weird, I guess. But could it be made to spin?  And if it did spin, how would that impact Earth? Or would it?  Does anyone know?  Is there even any sf written about terraforming the Moon?  I'd like to read some if there is. You can't turn around without running into a science fiction "moon base" or decroded vacuum-of-space mining colony or maybe a nice city under a dome, but what about just full-on terraforming the whole thing?  "Just" I say!

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