Friday, July 12, 2013

Are We ready For A Second Colombian Exchange Right Now?

Updated 1/29/2016




First Mars Soil Samples May Come Sooner Than Expected.

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File:NASA Mars Rover.jpg NASA Artist's illustration of a Mars Rover. 

A Recent video on the Huff Post Science page hints that the planned 2020 Mars expedition could involve the eventual return of soil samples to Earth.  The mission as presently proposed is focused on specifically looking for rocks which would be likely to contain proof of microbiological life. Referencing our evolving E Book PROTOCOLS first published as the series SPACE AS AN OCEAN and our recent series of posts on our insecure national border when it comes to containing harmful plants, animals, insects, and micro organisms at the border we have to observe that we are not ready as a nation, a planet, or a species to start a second "Colombian Exchange".  . 
 Considering the almost absolute lack of protection from dangerous animals, insects, plants and micro organisms that our nation presently has against such pests and pestilence entering the nation by ship, how would we deal with an outbreak of microorganisms originating from Martian soil? Considering the billions of dollars of damage we already suffer annually from exotic intrusion and our poor record of mitigation, how would we deal with micro organisms that prove harmful that aren't related to any life form we presently know. Could spores, viruses, etc. from microorganisms formerly common on Mars (assuming it ever harbored life) be surviving on Mars now? Remember we have already found forms of life living in volcanic vents at the bottom of the sea. There we once supposed it too dark, too hot, too oxygen deficient, too high in sulfur content for any form of life to survive. Then our unmanned deep diving robots turned the lights and cameras on at the location and we found a community of life unlike anything we had ever imagined not only surviving but thriving around these deep sea hot sulfur vents.

A "black smoker" hydrothermal vent on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Photo in the public domain courtesy of Peter Rona/NOAA. NOAA Photo of a Deep Sea Sulfur vent      Do you see the potential parallels with returning soil samples from Mars? With a 75% probability of an at sea landing for the samples, and history of at least one lost space capsule at sea do we have the fail safe protocols to prevent the loss of a returning Mars soil sample in the sea? Do we have the protocols in place to assure the sealed integrity of the container no matter how rough the landing until it can be opened in a secure environment? What constitutes a secure environment? Frankly, if we don't start seeing major improvements in the way we are handling our existing 511 year old Colombian Exchange, still out of control ,we really have to doubt our ability to start dealing with a potential second one from outer space. Why are we particularly concerned with the return of soil samples from Mars? Well consider that a few years ago a big news story was that meteor fragments had been found on Earth and identified as being of Martian origin and arguably contained fossil evidence of microbial life forms. This sparked the entire theoretical  discussion of the possibility that life first evolved on Mars and that the Earth was "seeded" at some point as Mars was bombarded by meteors sending chunks of the surface to us as meteors. We are all for progress and especially space travel and eventual colonization. But as mariners whose professional ancestors once linked "worlds" long separated by vast oceans, as the profession that inadvertently launched the Colombian Exchange for better and worse, we feel especially impelled to ask; where are the protocols?

"Whenever two populations of organisms that have been in isolation meet there is an exchange of micro organisms right down to the *viral level where scientists aren't too sure they are actually looking at an 'organism'. (See SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: "ARE VIRUS ALIVE ?" ).

 Small pox did more to conquer the Central American civilizations than Toledo steel swords and smooth bore musketry. When visible worlds collide small worlds collide as well, the tiny worlds of virus, bacteria, protozoa and whatever else that we haven't discovered as yet that might be out there." -From "Protocols: "WHEN WORLDS GREAT AND SMALL COLLIDE" 

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