The risk is real. Space missions carry all sorts of important logistical and scientific instrumentation. They also carry the risk of biological contamination according to a recent article in BioScience. Researchers with expertise in biological invasions, astrobiology, and biosecurity say that planetary biosecurity should be informed by the knowledge gained by invasion science.
It could be even worse…space exploration could contaminate extraterrestrial ecosystems. For example, a diverse array of microbial strains exhibiting extreme resistance to ionizing radiation, desiccation, and chemical disinfectants have been discovered in NASA ‘clean rooms’ used for spacecraft assembly. The researchers suggest that planets and moons potentially containing life should be treated as ‘insular systems’, like ecosystems on Earth that have proven to be extremely sensitive to the effects of invasive alien species.
Recommendations are that early detection and response methods should be in place. The paper, “Planetary biosecurity: applying invasion science to prevent biological contamination from space travel” by Anthony Ricciardi, Phillip Cassey, Stefan Leuko, and Andrew P. Woolnough can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab115.
Original Release: Eureka Alert