It’s no longer a secret that Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. With his company SpaceX, the billionaire from Pretoria in South Africa intends to go colonize our red neighbor by the end of the century. If Musk’s ambitions are limitless, he is often held back by Uncle Sam’s government bodies, such as the FAA, which do not share the same procedural speed as the entrepreneur.
But as NASA prepares to go to the Moon in the coming years with its Artemis program, here is a question, which may seem trivial, has returned to the fore: Quid of the sterilization of probes and other modules that humans send into space? Indeed, in order not to contaminate the soil of Mars or the Moon with an Earth bacteria, probes and other space objects are scrupulously disinfected. A very strict protocol, imposed by NASA on all government agencies as well as on private actors who could go to our satellite or a neighboring planet.
A more flexible protocol for more flights
But this protocol, very restrictive and expensive, could be revised according to the latest analyzes of a committee of national academies. Missions that do not plan to go more than a meter below the surface of Mars are unlikely to encounter large amounts of water ice, essential for the development of life, according to their study, published earlier this month. on the red planet.
According to Amanda Hendrix, committee co-chair “These findings may lead to making parts of Mars more accessible to commercial and government companies by relaxing protection requirements, while remaining cautious about accessing potential habitable areas.” This report, now submitted to NASA, was carried out following an independent investigation carried out in 2019 which already asked to reduce the regions of the Moon and Mars where the requirements would be maximum.
Still according to Hendrix the goal remains good “To avoid harmful contamination to preserve future life detection experiments on Mars”, but the committee does not want to impose too strict a protocol, which would have no scientific justification, in regions of the red planet where life simply cannot develop.
Could SpaceX go to Mars?
Today SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company is unable to make it to Mars. Even less during a manned mission. While its launcher, the Starship still has not made the slightest demonstration above orbit, it which is blocked on the ground by the FAA, it is for the moment very difficult to see how SpaceX could send it towards March soon.
But the rocket’s schedule isn’t empty either. Planned as a NASA lander for its return to the Moon, the Starship should play the leading role in future space missions, much to Jeff Bezos’ chagrin. But Elon Musk has bigger ambitions for his rocket, and he plans to land it on the Red Planet. From this perspective, the lifting of several very costly restrictions on the part of NASA could greatly facilitate the task of the billionaire and his teams.
It remains to be seen what the new map of the red planet will look like, and a few areas where the protocol will be lightened up. Indeed, the ideal conditions for life on Mars are essentially found where there is water ice, so you will have to make a choice between respecting the protocol and spending a “habitable” stay on Mars, or doing so. deadlocked on NASA’s requests, but end up in a very hostile part of Mars, where exploration would be extremely limited, if not impossible.