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Assessing the Biohazard Potential of Putative Martian Organisms for Exploration Class Human Space MissionsExploration Class missions to Mars will require precautions against potential contamination by any native microorganisms that may be incidentally pathogenic to humans. While the results of NASA's Viking biology experiments of 1976 have been generally interpreted as inconclusive for surface organisms, the possibility of native surface life has never been ruled out and more recent studies suggest that the case for biological interpretation of the Viking Labeled Release data may now be stronger than it was when the experiments were originally conducted. It is possible that, prior to the first human landing on Mars, robotic craft and sample return missions will provide enough data to know with certainty whether or not future human landing sites harbor extant life forms. However, if native life is confirmed, it will be problematic to determine whether any of its species may present a medical risk to astronauts. Therefore, it will become necessary to assess empirically the risk that the planet contains pathogens based on terrestrial examples of pathogenicity and to take a reasonably cautious approach to bio-hazard protection. A survey of terrestrial pathogens was conducted with special emphasis on those pathogens whose evolution has not depended on the presence of animal hosts. The history of the development and implementation of Apollo anticontamination protocol and recent recommendations of the NRC Space Studies Board regarding Mars were reviewed. Organisms can emerge in nature in the absence of indigenous animal hosts and both infectious and non-infectious human pathogens are theoretically possible on Mars. The prospect of Martian surface life, together with the existence of a diversity of routes by which pathogenicity has emerged on Earth, suggests that the possibility of human pathogens on Mars, while low, is not zero. Since the discovery and study of Martian life can have long-term benefits for humanity, the risk that Martian life might include pathogens should not be an obstacle to human exploration. As a precaution, however, it is recommended that EVA suits be decontaminated when astronauts enter surface habitats when returning from field activity and that biosafety protocol approximating laboratory BSL 2 be developed for astronauts working in laboratories on the Martian surface. Quarantine of astronauts and Martian materials arriving on Earth should also be part of a human Mars mission and this and the surface biosafety program should be integral to human expeditions from the earliest stages of the mission planning.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
Warmflash, David (Houston Univ. TX, United States)
Larios-Sanz, Maia (Houston Univ. TX, United States)
Jones, Jeffrey (NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Fox, George E. (Houston Univ. TX, United States)
McKay, David S. (NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2007
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.

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