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'Tardigrades on the Moon Is Not Good'



On April 11, 2019, the Israeli SpaceIL company's Beresheet (Hebrew for “In the Beginning”) lunar lander crashed on the Moon. Beresheet 's payload, delivered by the non-profit Arch Mission Foundation, was intended to be an information backup for the Earth. It included a DVD containing 30 million pages of human knowledge, as well as 60,000 etched pages requiring no computer to read, keys to 5,000 languages, and DNA samples from 25 people. According to the Arch Mission Foundation chairman Nova Spivack, in the catastrophe case, this information library, parked on the Moon, could be sufficient to “regenerate the human race.”

Many might consider Arch mission mission fanciful, others profound. But few objected. After all, it was their money. Creative people have certainly done sillier things. Too bad about the crash, though.

But then it came out August 7th that Beresheet was carrying an additional cargo, some 1

0,000 microscopic animals called tardigrades, on a postage-stamp-sized piece of tape. Known to amateur microscopists as "water bears" or "moss piglets," these animals have the capacity to survive dehydrated in a dormant state for years, and are highly resistant to radiation damage as well. Now they were on the Moon.

At first reporters reported the story with a light touch. “Thousands of tardigrades stranded on the moon after a lander crash,” Mindy Weisberger playfully wrote in LiveScience . "Water bears stuck in the moon after the crash," reported the BBC. “Definitely some great source material for a sci-fi horror movie. Attack of the Moss Piglets from the Moon? We keep watch it. ”

But alas, the fun just last. “Tardigrades on the moon is not good,” proclaimed NASA Goddard-based astrobiologist Monica Vidaurri in a series of tweets in August 10. She continued (breaks between tweets omitted):

It is not cute. It is the result of a major gap in accountability for planetary protection and ethics between public and private science, and we have no idea what can happen as a result. It means that the private sector can keep doing as it wishes. It means they won't answer any protections / ethics office. And the fact that nothing is happening in terms of politics, and that STON decontamination standards have not been updated, is dangerous beyond imagination. And if you are thinking anything along the lines of 'sweet, we made moon beings!' Then stop. Think carefully. WE made something on ANOTHER world that we don't fully understand. It has an environment, even if we think it is 'barren' to any life on earth. . .

What you are doing is showing excitement in the long history of forcing OUR values, systems, and in this case, living beings in another world. It's not our right, and it's not our job. If we carry on with that mentality, even if we take away the 'colonization' word the premise is the same. What colonialism is. It's imperialism.

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J'Accuse!

Other putative planetary protectionists affected by a greater degree of sobriety, but still joined in the inquisition, with claims that the offenses committed in L'Affaire Tardigrade threatened not only by lunar science, astrobiology, and paleontology, but the entire structure of international law.

These claims are of significant clinical interest, are let's take a moment

At the core of the planetary protectionist prosecution's case is the claim that delivering a milligram of dormant tardigrades to the Moon constituted "harmful contamination" of anothe r world, which was forbidden by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. But this is nonsense, because while it is conceivable that the tardigrades might have survived the crash, and even remain revivable for several years on the Moon in dormant dehydrated form, they cannot metabolize there, as there is no liquid water on the lunar surface. So until and unless someone goes there and collects them and takes them into a lab for scientific study, they are just so much dust.

Furthermore, the Beresheet mission was hardly the first time anyone delivered microorganisms to the Moon. In fact, the Apollo missions left not milligrams, but pounds of live microbes on the Moon in bags of human faeces. This was an intelligent thing to do, because by leaving the wastes behind the astronauts were able to return with more Moon rocks, which, pound for pound, are worth a lot more on Earth than manures. But it wouldn't matter if they didn't, because as soon as the astronauts opened the door of the Lunar Module, millions of microbes were released on the lunar surface, millions more hit rides outside on spacesuits, and billions more were sent back down after the Lunar Modules left behind in orbit eventually crashed onto the Moon. Furthermore, even if, at great expense, those releases could have been prevented by engineered solutions, it would still have been impossible to conduct the Apollo missions within the planetary protection guidelines since it could never have been guaranteed that the Lunar Module would not have crashed,

Monica Grady, a leading astrobiologist with the UK's Open University at Milton Keynes, acknowledged this history but commented, “You might say [planetary protection] was broken in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were there, which is true, but since then we have become much more aware of how we should preserve these planetary bodies.

“I don't think anyone would have got permission to distribute dehydrated tardigrades over the surface of the moon. So aware not a good thing. ”

More aware, or less aware? The Apollo wastes were dehydrated and effectively sterilized by the lunar environment within hours of being left behind, and the missions would be impossible without accepting such transient releases. So something is “not a good thing,” but it is not that the tardigrades were sent to the Moon.

If you could send tardigrades to the Moon, you would send people to the Moon.

Moreover, there are some deeper problems here. In the first place, who gave the Moon to astrobiologists? Giving the Moon to astrobiologists is like giving the stratosphere to ichthyologists.

But what about Mars? In contrast to the Moon, the Red Planet is indeed a significant justifiable interest in astrobiology. While the lunar-surface combination of daytime temperatures of 127 degrees Celsius (260 Fahrenheit) and hard vacuum would qualify it as an excellent autoclave lab, completely precluding any viable microbial life, on Mars there are no such forbidding conditions. Moreover, unlike the cold, dry, very thin-aired conditions prevailing there currently, the early Mars was warm and wet, with a thick CO2 atmosphere, making it near twin for the Earth at the time when life first appeared here. So life could have developed on Mars, and even if it could not survive longer on the surface, it might have left behind fossils, and even persist in underground hydrothermally warmed reservoirs.

No Collateral Science Be Served by Banning Humans From Mars? Fossil hunting on Earth requires hiking long distances through unimproved terrain, doing heavy work with pickaxes, and performing delicate work peeling off layers of sedimentary rocks to reveal the remains of life trapped within. Finding and characterizing extant life on Mars will require setting up drilling rigs to sample hundreds of meters into the ground and bring up water samples, and then subjecting them to biological surveys and biochemical testing in a lab. All of these operations are light years beyond the capability of robotic rovers. As for the objection that if we send humans to Mars we would know if the life we ​​find there is native or something we brought ourselves, it is nonsense. If it is native life, it will have left fossils or other biomarkers to test its existence on Mars before our arrival. How we know there was life on earth before the appearance of humans here. To believe otherwise is not to concur with the creationists who argue that fossils do not test the existence of life on Earth before humans because God could have created the planet with fossils included.

We have to wait for human missions to become feasible for planetary protectionism to damage Mars exploration, it is doing so already. In 2015 the Curiosity rover sent to Mars at a cost to the U.S. taxpayers of over $ 2 billion were blocked by planetary protection considerations from investigating nearby places where it appeared that subsurface water was seeping to the surface. These might conceivably have contained microbes or remains of microbes. NASA's planned Mars sample return mission has been enormously complex, with multiple in-space autonomous rendering and dock operations inserted into the mission plan, in order to meet planetary-protection requirements. These include not only “protecting” the surface of Mars from (impossible) contamination by microbes transported from Earth, but protecting Earth from (impossible) microbes living on the Martian surface (which if they did exist, would have long since arrived here on their own riding many of the 500 kg of naturally ejected Mars rocks that arrive here every year.) As a result, the sample return has been turned from a mission into a vision. In fact, owing to the burdens imposed on mission design by planetary-protection requirements, NASA has not sent a life-detection experiment to Mars since 1976.

So here we are, spending billions on a robotic planetary-exploration program and tens of billions on a human-spaceflight program while submitting those programs to planetary-protection restraints that preclude them from accomplishing their goals – restraints whose absurd foundations are laid bare by the willingness of their advocates to fanatically demand their enforcement even for a self-sterilizing environment such as the Earth's Moon.

But there is a bigger question. Not just a matter of who gave the moon to astrobiologists, but also who gave the universe to professional scientists. Humans do not exist to serve scientific research. Scientific research exists to serve humanity. We learned a lot of science by settling America, but it wasn't why we did it. We will acquire vast new knowledge by becoming a spacefaring species, but that is not why we should get it. We should do it to establish new branches of human civilization that will enrich the human story in the future as much as human colonization of the Earth has enormously enriched it compared to what it would have been had we stayed in our original homeland in the Kenyan Rift Valley. We will create new nations, sporting new languages, literatures, inventions, traditions, and heroes, on new worlds filled with wonders to discover, certainly, but also history waiting to be made.

Our presence will not “contaminate” these worlds, but enrich them fabulously. Settling them is not “imperialism,” it is construction. Humans are not vermin. We are creators, not destroyers. A living world is better than a dead world. A world of thinking beings is better than a world of bereft of them. We are not the enemies of life and thought, we are their vanguard. It is our place to continue the work of creation. If we can, we should not just bring life to Mars, but bring Mars to life.

I think we will. And when we have, but one will be able to look at our work and not feel proud to be human.

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