Mars Rover May Be Contaminated with Earth Microbes

Part of Curiosity’s drill may have been exposed to microbes on Earth before the rover launched to Mars. Catharine Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer, explains how the slip-up violated agency procedures, but why it likely won’t impact Curiosity’s science objectives.

This image shows the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on NASA’s Curiosity rover, with the Martian landscape in the background. The image was taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera on the 32nd Martian day, or sol, of operations on the surface (Sept. 7, 2012, PDT or Sept. 8, 2012, UTC). APXS can be seen in the middle of the picture. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
(l) This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the cover on an inlet that will receive powdered rock and soil samples for analysis. The image also shows sand and angular and rounded pebbles that were deposited on the rover deck when it landed. (r) This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the open inlet. The entrance of the funnel is about 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) in diameter. The mesh screen is about 2.3 inches (5.9 centimeters) deep. The mesh size is 0.04 inches (1 millimeter). Once the samples have gone down the funnel, the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument will be shooting X-rays at the samples to identify and quantify the minerals. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Segment Guests

Catharine Conley

Catharine Conley is a planetary protection officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Meet the Producer

About Denise Chow

Denise Chow is a sci-tech editor at Live Science and a former associate producer for Science Friday.