Water bears, the tiny creatures that have already been proven to survive direct exposure to the vacuum of space, were slated for launch to a Martian moon this month. But Russian officials chose to delay their first interplanetary mission in more than a decade due to safety and technical issues, until the next launch window opens in 2011.
The Planetary Society hopes that its small payload experiment can help test the theory of panspermia, and see whether life can survive the long journey between Earth and other parts of the solar system. Toward that end, researchers packed representatives from all three kingdoms of Earth life into a small container meant to hitch a ride aboard Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission.
Tiny eight-legged creatures known as tardigrades, or water bears, are perhaps the stars of the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment. Some water bears flew on an earlier spacecraft experiment in 2007, and managed to survive both vacuum and harsh radiation. The new mission will test whether the critters can perform a similar survival feat during the 34-month journey to Mars.
Scientists fought through red tape and engineering challenges alike. Wired reports that the team tested its BioModule's durability by vibrating it violently on a shake table and shooting it out of an air cannon -- after all, the package must ensure its contents' survival during a 4,000-g landing on Phobos.
Will they be sent to the surface with anything to metabalize with? WB's can survive in a dormant stage for decades, but with only a little help, could they actually breed on a foreign soil (and become the first aliens, however small and Earth DNA based)?
I'm all for sending life to other planets, but before we start shooting DNA out into the universe, there are some things we should consider:
1) Once you shoot life somewhere, it is forever contaminated against ever finding other life there naturally.
2) As Lovelock so elegantly proved, life is a planetary phenomenon. Extreamophiles on new worlds will expand, and eventually require diversity to maintain anything close to stability.
3) Life takes time. Lots of time. Even if life on a planet doubled every week (which it could not do indefinately), it would still take decades to cover any sizeable body with even stage one life.
I'm all for it though. Atmospheric modifying bacteria, however, seem like a more logical first choice. (Say, something that metabolized methane?).
Yes, Send other life to a planet so that it can grow rapidly and evolve and then maybe we can have bug wars like starship troopers and test our technology on some eight legged aliens just in case we come into contact with real threatening aliens so we can be "prepared".
Great Scot-t-t-t what are they doing.
Introducing life to an asteroid is one thing and the Tardigrades are cute little buggers but give me a break if something goes wrong next stop is Mars. NASA spent all this money to sterilize all their equipment before entering the Martian atmosphere so they wouldn't contaminate it now they are going to purposely land on Phobos and seed it with life. Phobos is so close to Mars within 1 million years its orbit will decay and it will crash into Mars. Nematodes survived the Columbia Disaster and Tardygrades will survive the Phobos plunge. Well you think a million years is a long time but it doesn't stop there.
Anything on Phobos not nailed down is subject to being knocked off by some minor impact from a small asteroid, kinetic energy. It's kind of like hitting a billiard ball with another billiard ball. The gravity is so week that a astronaut could jump off of Phobos so anything that isn't nailed down is subject to leaving the moon much sooner than 1 million years which means next stop Mars. This kind of action could happen in a matter of a year.
When humans finally go to Mars 200 years later we may find something there that we planted, it will confuse the heck out of our great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.
Doesn't this kind of screw up any future science missions.
There needs to be a "prime directive" among scientists not to screw it up for future generations. In each countries race to be first they are putting true science and our planet last. Why not crash a whole spaceship full of bacteria on Europa and observe it for a few years?
Terra-forming critters would be a better idea. Though I think sending them directly to mars would be more useful for manned missions later on than sticking them on Phobos.
As to some of your concerns.....let's face it, there's never been any hard scientific observation that says there is life anywhere but right here on earth. I wouldn't get all that worried about contaminating anything.
Do you all really think that water bears (and the other two forms of life they're including) are going to contaminate phobos to the point where we can't ascertain if it was life we put there arleady? I mean, given that we would document that we sent them there and given the extremely long amount of time it takes anything to evolve, i think we might be able to figure out whats ours and whats truly alien, if that circumstance even presents it's self.
Decontaminating mars rovers and the like would be a bit different, because microbial life forms and the like that happen to be on it aren't catalogued (undefined variables), there could be anything on there. This is a small biocapsule that we know the exact contents of.
I understand that scientifically it does contaminate precise (absolute) results, however i dont think the amount of contamination is even really quatifiable, given the vast lifelessness of phobos. Furthermore, Suzan, How are we certain that past missions havent already taken microbial life to other destinations? Ponderous.
Or that random Earth apocalypse #4 didn't throw a bunch of life out into the cosmos to seed onto other planets.