What Mars science research would be impeded by the presence of humans on Mars surface?

The NASA InSight Mars Lander had seismometers sensitive enough to pick up vibrations caused by dust devils in the tenuous winds. Human activity would have produced seismic artifacts.

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InSight’s “mole” probe penetrated the surface 0.5m (of a design target depth 5.0 m). The mission is Category IVa (not investigating life) so the spacecraft is “allowed” to have 300,000 viable bacterial spores on its surface. Spores are the hardiest dormant form of bacteria in terms of resisting extremes of heat, UV and desiccation. They are formed by the organisms which cause Botulism, Gangrene, Tetanus and Anthrax. It is possible that InSight introduced spores into the warm(er), moist(er), low(er) UV subsoil where they could germinate and reproduce.

InSight could have been sterilized to a higher standard. A crewed lander could not.

It would be impossible to prevent further biologic contamination if humans occupy the surface of Mars.

Since the presence of humans interferes with some scientific investigations, shouldn’t we list these sensitive investigations and ensure they are performed robotically before introducing Humans?

Kind of like cataloguing Australian life before introducing dingoes and rabbits. Mars isn’t going anywhere.


2 Answers 2


There is some merit in waiting. But a considerable time has already been spent and many missions have been conducted already. The danger is that the ever smaller chance of discovering life will prohibit the human exploration of Mars for the indefinite future. But a human presence on Mars would make all forms of exploration so much easier due to time lag issues. It is entirely reasonable that human exploration could be initially limited to areas where life is unlikely to occur. But where humans could remotely control rovers or other equipment to carry out the required search and analysis without the time lag.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds risky. That monolith was pretty pissed. $\endgroup$
    – Woody
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ Human presence on Mars is currently fueled by curiosity and (insane) exploit ambitions rather by scientific necessity. Even if better understanding of the genesis of life and planets creation is very important, there is no justification to do it in a hurry. Especially, when we have only one Earth and one Mars to play with, with the current technology. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ True the current drive for the human exploration is not driven by scientific necessity. It is driven by the ambition of one man - Elon Musk. But many share his views and the majority of human activities are not driven by scientific necessity, but bother things like politics and human desires, everything from climbing mt Everest to landing on the Moon. We do only have one Earth and One Mars, but the human exploration of Mars might well have some beneficial out comes here on Earth, like the development of fully reusable rockets and learning how to manage a closed biosphere and improve recycling. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 11:11

I submit that, among all scientific breakthroughs that Mars exploration could help us achieve, the one on the genesys of Life stands out as top priority. Whether we can determine that: (i) there is life; (ii) there had been Life or (iii) we can’t find any trace of fossilized Life (especially if we have theorized that Life should be possible), any of these outcomes would be invaluable advances in Life science. Any of these would permit a lot of savings, both in time and resources, in our quest for Life elsewhere, especially outside of the Solar system. Any of these would expand our knowledge on how resilient Life could be when faced with a climate change catastrophe.There would be other opportunities than Mars in answering the questions of Life. But Mars is clearly the very first.

If we agree on the above, then anything that risks delaying our ability to resolve unquestionably, unequivocally, the many mysteries of Life, any that risks blurring our undertsanding of the results of our investigations, should be cancelled or at least postponed.

Some would argue that, as there are meteorites of Mars found on Earth, the converse is true and so cross-contamination has already occurred. This reasoning forgets the fact that these meteorites took millions of years to travel between the two planets, in very hostile conditions. The risk of biological cross-contamination is less than a 7-month journey by a crewed spacecraft, with tons of provisions to support a year or two of activities on Mars. And let’s not forget the human’s wastes, which undoubtly will be left there.

Since your question seems rhetorical, IMO, I have just concurred with the implicit answer you embedded yourself in your question.


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