Mankind has been speculating about life on Mars for over a century, from the days where we envisioned canals stretching across the red sands, to our modern search for microscopic life hiding in pockets of ice. While we’ve never found any little green men, life might finally have appeared on the surface of the red planet. Only, er, we might have accidentally shipped it there.
Space.com reports that NASA’s Curiosity rover, which launched on November 26th and is currently headed for Mars, may have been contaminated. The problem stems from a set of drill bits which were not sent through the final step of the program’s ultra-cleanliness procedures. The space program has extensive steps, called the “planetary protection protocols,” which are designed to prevent any Earth contaminants from reaching other planets via NASA spacecraft. Instead of keeping all the drill bits in a sterile box, which would have been opened by the rover once planetside, the NASA crew decided it was safe to go ahead and attach one of the bits to the rover’s drill head. The appropriate paperwork to approve the step was filed, but it didn’t reach NASA’s planetary protection officer (that’s one hell of a business card) until it was too late to fix it.