We have seen in these questions that one of the primary concerns in sending humans (or anything for that matter, but especially humans) to Mars is contamination of the Martian environment:

How would the search for life on Mars be affected by having boots on the ground?

What is the ideal location for a human habitat on Mars?

If any Earth biota were to get muddled into the Martian environment it might adversely affect our search for life on Mars.

The Dutch Mars One mission is not primarily intended to search for life, but regardless it is still a manned mission to Mars. Do they plan to take any precautions to prevent contamination? I ask because they are not affiliated with existing space agencies, so the current restrictions do not apply to them. If they do have a process planned already to prevent contamination, what does this process entail (in brief)?


2 Answers 2


There is an official Mars One FAQ page answering exactly this question:

Mars One will take specific steps to ensure that the Mars environment (which we will study, and on which we will depend) will not be harmed. The Mars base will be forced to recycle just about everything, and pay close attention to its energy use and minimize the leakage of materials and energy. Nutrients are scarce on Mars. They either need to be imported from Earth, or extracted from the ground or atmosphere. Solar panels, which will also be launched from Earth, will generate the settlement's electricity. All of this means that a Mars resident will have a much smaller ecological footprint than that of the average person on Earth.

In addition, the development and operation of the settlement itself can greatly improve our sustainability efforts on Earth. The necessity to recycle everything on Mars will provide a high-profile boost to our recycling industry, as will the demand for lightweight solar panel technology. New methods of cultivating crops and growing plants on Mars can also teach us on Earth a great deal about how to improve our environment from experiences on another planet.

Prevention of environmental contamination

Mars One will take the required actions to prevent environmental contamination caused by the importation of Earth life (humans and their companion organisms). Mars One has begun discussions with the ICSU Committee on Space Research’s (COSPAR’s) panel on planetary protection and the COSPAR panel on exploration to identify the measures that need to be taken with respect to prevent this contamination. Dr. Chris McKay of the COSPAR panel on exploration and Prof. Dr. John D. Rummel of the COSPAR panel of planetary protection are two of our advisers. Based on discussions with these two panels, Mars One will acquire the necessary systems and take the required and necessary actions to protect Mars.

If I remember correctly, this FAQ question is a reply to one of the questions to Bas Lansdorp's AMA on Reddit. Or perhaps Mars One press conference held in Washington DC in December 10, 2013. I'll update, if I find some more info on it. ;)

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting read, I wonder what specifically they will be doing since they just seem to refer to a board that is tasked with this. I can't check that youtube out now, but will later. $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    Apr 18, 2014 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Jack That would be worthy of a new question, perhaps in a more general sense, since I doubt that Mars One has already decided on necessary steps to prevent forward contamination and in-situ biological contamination. One such measure that I'm aware of that also comes with other benefits, such as reduced ingress and egress EVA time, is the suitport that NASA's Ames is developing. $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Apr 18, 2014 at 17:04

Once you open the hatch, Mars is contaminated. No matter how hard you try to sterilize everything before opening up, there will be microbes on the outside of suits, airlock surfaces, etc. Maybe you could flood the airlock with hot acid or some other biocide and then drain it, but that will be considered too much useless payload, and is not 100% guaranteed anyway. There's a good chance that some stuff has already made it to Mars on landers (that we attempted to sterilize) and crashed orbiters, so we'll never be absolutely certain that any bug we find there is truly native (unless its biochemistry is radically different from anything on Earth).

All we can do is hope that the chemical environment of Mars's surface is so harsh that no Earth life could survive there. That doesn't bode well for the survival of astronauts or settlers, who will track some surface materials into their living quarters and breathe it in. I just wish people weren't in such a rush to get to Mars, and would do some more robotic looking for life on and below the surface (and sample returns), before people get there and definitely contaminate it.


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