Mars Sample Return – Ethical and Moral Considerations

Mars Sample Return – Ethical and Moral Considerations

Mars Sample Return raises extraordinarily large ethical and moral considerations. If anything is living on the surface of Mars, such as bacteria, is it moral to bring it to Earth to possibly expose the 7 billion + inhabitants of Earth to it? What if many people agree (to gain knowledge, for example) while others don’t want to take the risk of infection or introducing an invasive species? As we are witnessing currently with Covid-19, the response of people and world leaders varies greatly. Do you think it is worth the risk to bring Mars samples back to Earth? Does NASA (or any Space agency) have the right to expose the billions of other inhabitants of Earth to possible bacteria in the returned Mars samples?

To provide a short comment, simply scroll down. All comments appreciated!


Jim, We have learned a LOT since 1969, including about what is, and what is not, on Mars (from the multiple prior missions to Mars, for example). ?

Why did early Apollo Astronauts have to spend weeks in quarantine when they returned from the moon?

While I’d be more concerned with how climate change is making mankind more susceptible to earth born pathogens, I would sure hope any Martian samples would be carefully handled when returned.

Technically it would, at least according to science, but as many parts of the bible are vague and open to interpretation, I’m sure there’s a passage or two that could have any alien findings woven into the narrative, so the idea of a creator can remain for religious folk.

Wouldn’tWi the existence of life outside of our earth ultimately revoke the idea of God. Ancient believes that “in the beginning….”. For if other life was found outside of our own beliefs, there too would be another “creator”

I agree with the comment “the only part of the space program I think we should spend money on is what happens in local orbit. It really doesn’t matter what’s happening in far space. What use to humanity is the pretty pictures from the Hubble that we spend billions of $$$ on? None”

Thomas, Great question (s). Out of those 3 choices, I’d go with 2. Again, I could be a little blinded by the science and excited to see what they find. ?

Dan S., is that because you don’t think Mars has life, or because you don’t think it will be a pathogen or invasive species, or because you trust scientists to contain it?

I think many people are more fearful about bacteria spreading than they used to be because of our experience with Covid. Can’t blame them for feeling this way, but humans have always wondered if life exists outside of our planet and I’d hate to see fear be what drives our decisions. I hope every precaution will be taken to secure the samples whether they are in our labs or China’s….oh, wait… ???? Guess a little well founded fear can bring wisdom!

Mars Sample Return – the majority of the Astrobiology community is convinced this is the only way (robotically) to confirm potential signatures of past life prior to human missions that will pose a contamination risk to the sampling sites.

The possibility a virus brought to Earth from a sample collected on Mars would be dangerous to humans is extremely remote. In other words, there are dozens of more things that are far more likely to kill a person, such as lightning, a vehicle accident, COVID-19, heart disease brought on by one’s poor diet or hereditary, cancer of all sorts, and a massive asteroid causing an extinction level event. To worry about a Martian virus is completely unwarranted, and should only exist in the realm of science fiction.

Crazy ideas of crazy people interested in making money. Better stop trying to conquer space because soon there will be no earth to return to.

Paola, we have the world quaking in their boots because of a bit of flu and you mad scientists want to bring shit back from another planet without checking it out, if you’re so keen to know what is on another planet why don’t you just eff of to it yourself and leave us to enjoy whats left of this one.

Seriously, what is the worst that can happen? I mean, release a pathogen that is billions of years old, that has intelligence, that will replace us as the top of the food chain… I do not really think that is a bad thing, for the planet… not so much for us though and frankly, we get what we deserve.

Personally I think 95% of the money spent on space programs would be better used to solve problems here.
It’s kind of like Benjamin Franklin said about the scientists/mathematicians that worked on senseless brain twisters. He believed if all of that knowledge and effort were applied to present issues many logical solutions would be found.

Thomas, there is no history of mankind moving a lifeform from another planet to Earth so your statement about history is a poor analogy. Anyway, mankind has a great history with moving agriculturally useful plants and animals around that has benefitted humanity greatly. These far outweigh moving pathogens and invasive species. That is what history says but you only seem interested in highlighting the negative. But I do agree that any Martian life should be assessed in situ. It is very unlikely to be a bacterium or virus. Don’t get stuck on life from Earth’s domain. Life is a complicated replicating system, that’s all. So it is near nonsense to suggest Martian life should be something resembling life found on Earth.

Atch, unless it was transferred between planets billions of years ago by meteor (lithopanspermia). In that case, (which is controversially but plausibly shown by meteor ALH84001 ) the life would be distantly related. And lastly, I think this makes my point about mankind’s movement of pathogens and invasive species even more relevant – we’re in a pandemic and lost 400,000+ i souls in the US alone because of the movement of a pathogen from China. Sorry for highlighting the negative but it is the risk I’m concerned about. But I’m glad we agree studying it should be done safely – whether it’s on Mars or the ISS, either is ok by me. And I’m as interested and as optimistic that new scientific and medical advances will be discovered as much as anyone! Be well

I fully support a bacterium or virus being return to Earth from Mars. If it gets out of the lab, there is zero chance of any interaction with life on Earth because it will be so different to us. However, the potential through manipulation of this alien lifeform for the creation of human lifesaving medicines are immense. This is a once in a million year opportunity for the advancement of mankind.

Atch, I agree that studying potential Mars bacteria or other life is absolutely a good thing for many reasons. I just think it should be studied on Mars, or at least the ISS, until it is determined to be safe and not a possible invasive species to Earth’s biosphere. Mankind has a poor history with moving pathogens and invasive species around.

So many people on earth would benefit from the money wasted on space and defence. We should strive to care for all humanity and nature.

Yes I’m concerned. Our ecosystem is a balanced, delicate system that we have evolved and thrived in as it has evolved. Introducing possible outside pathogens or variants in any way could throw off that delicate balance if an accidental containment breach were to occur.
Scientists are so worried about whether they can find “answers” that they never stop to care enough about the consequences.

Anexa, agreed. We can not contain all of the disaster we create on this planet, so let’s see what we can bring home from another. Or even take to another planet.

What about lab mistakes or accidents releasing a possible Mars bacteria or virus into the Earth’s biosphere? The liklihood might be small but the consequesnces are unquantifiable and may be unimaginable. What about the rights of the people that do not want to take this risk? We all share this one Earth.

I don’t think the samples will be a threat.
Should others be exposed that think the samples are more of a threat? I think there are often risks imposed on us by the government that we are unaware of. What I’ve read about mars contamination, admittedly limited, doesn’t ring alarm bells so far. I’m relieved the mission is out in the open.

Why are we not spending the vast amounts of money & resources on fixing the the many issues we have on Earth do you think when earth is no longer habitable that you will have a better life on Mars God help us

The fact humans need to go to Mars is one more, of untold thousands, example of the specie’s deep evil and simple stupidity.

What risk? Won’t the return samples be coming back to the Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory that was set up for Apollo?

The Mars samples won’t go to the Lunar Receiving Facility but will go to a new Mars Sample Return Facility that doesn’t (to my knowledge) exist yet. The risks are accidents, mistakes, terrorism (or other intentional acts) and natural disasters. These things can happen, as is shown by Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Challenger, and Columbia. It seems much safer to me to study Mars while on Mars, and not return the Mars samples to Earth. Thanks for your thoughts on the issue!

The Japanese Hayabusa2 capsule returned samples from an asteroid last week, the second such asteroid sample to be returned. Do you see any similar risks from those samples?

That’s a great question. I don’t see nearly the risk that samples from Mars pose, for several reasons. Asteroids are exposed constantly to the brutal conditions of space, and if any microbes reach them and survive (by panspermia, for example) then those same microbes would reach Earth constantly via meteors and interplanetary dust. Mars, on the other hand, has had billions of years of time to allow much more varied and potentially dangerous or invasive species to evolve. These may NEVER have reached Earth and survived the trip (via meteors aka lithopanspermia). So it seems much more dangerous to return these samples from Mars to Earth. So, personally, I’m not as worried about samples from asteroids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *