While the Western world waits to see what President-Elect Obama does with the US space program, the Russians are getting busy with a Mars mission of their own. Due for launch in October, the charmingly-named Phobos-Grunt mission will be robot-manned, of course, but there will be earth lifeforms aboard, albeit very tiny ones:
LIFE [Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment] is intended to help better understand the nature of life, its robustness, and its ability – or not – to move between planets. The journey will be a test of one facet of the “transpermia” hypothesis. That is, the possibility that life can voyage from planet to planet inside rocks blasted off one planetary surface by impact, to land on another planetary surface.
Don’t worry, though; they’re not going to break the 1967 Outer Space Treaty by infecting Mars with Earth biology. Or at least they’re not going to do it deliberately – but that’s not stopping a few NASA types getting a bit hot under the collar about the whole business:
… I am uncomfortable with sending native tundra samples so close to Mars, because this is a location on Earth that could possibly contain organisms capable of adapting to Martian conditions,” and to do so “seems ill-advised,” Conley told SPACE.com.
Well, we surely don’t want to corrupt Mars with Earth microbes if we can avoid it. But how much of that discomfort is rooted in the Planetary Society using a Russian mission arther than a NASA one, I wonder? [superb montage image by Bluedharma]