Inorganic materials on Mars

Scientists have to make sure nothing organic from Earth goes along for the ride!

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One of the main objectives of the ExoMars Project is to find out if there are any signs of life on Mars – now or in the past.

But what would happen if a scientist accidently sneezed on the equipment as it was being built, and when the ExoMars Rover arrived on Mars, its probes discovered traces of the sneeze cells – people might jump to the wrong conclusions that there was life on Mars – and that they also suffered from colds!

So every single piece of equipment on the ExoMars Rover has to be completely sterile and clean of any organic material.  Even everyday materials can’t be used – like rubber for tyres and certain oils – they’re organic materials and contain traces of living organisms from earth.  Every bit of plastic, every drop of paint, any lubricant used – must be totally synthetic.

Also, if any Earth bacteria or germs did get onto Mars – well, it could kill off whatever life was there to start with! Can you imagine the news headlines – “We’re excited to announce that we found life on Mars. But unfortunately a snotty tissue from earth got stuck on the ExoMars Rover and the common cold has killed off all the Martian life”.

So scientists have to be very careful when building the robots.  The laboratories are a very clean and sterile environment.  Technicians wear full bodysuits, with facemasks and hairnets too.  They’re not allowed to touch the Rover with bare hands. That’s to prevent any human matter coming into contact with it.

Before any robot can leave for Mars, technicians will have to sterilise it – so every component on it has to be either ‘baked out’ – which is what it sounds like, basically put it in an oven and baked it for a very long time to kill off everything – or bombarded with hydrogen peroxide plasma – a hot bleach gas, which isn’t very nice if you’re a living organism.

You can hear Deep Space High: Destination Mars on Fun Kids Radio or listen to the series below!

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Deep Space High: Destination Mars with support from the UK Space Agency.

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