Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Earth's Moon = Petri Dish

There's been much said about NASA's recent LCROSS project, which smashed a robotic spacecraft into the moon's surface in an attempt to search for water. Some feared that the impact could damage the moon in unpredictable ways, and ought not be attempted.

The much-promised impact explosion, which NASA said would make for a visually exciting scene via telescope, fizzled, leaving everyone wondering what the heck happened. A brief pinprick of light was all that was seen - no giant cloud of debris and ejecta.

Space researcher and fellow Coast to Coast with Art Bell guest Richard Hoagland has noted the similarity of the event's unpredicted result to that of the effect produced when bunker-busting missiles are used to bomb underground complexes on Earth. The missile pierces the thin surface, then detonates once inside the chamber, leaving only a pinprick of light visible aerially through the small hole it made upon entry.

Hoagland, known for his fanciful speculation about extraterrestrials and ancient civilizations in our solar system, has been called a nut by some - even by me, sometimes - but in general I think he's righter than he is wrong, and his bunker-buster comparison contains more fire than smoke.

Be that as it may, let's look at the situation from the official NASA non-conspiratorial viewpoint for a moment.

On November 13, 2009, NASA made a historic announcement: LCROSS had verified that, yes, there is water on the moon, and in considerable quantities. This idea was once held to be highly unlikely if not impossible, so some seriously cherished aspects of our society's status quo were being dashed here. Yet the average citizen seemed not to notice or care.

Well, they should care, and here's why:

The first (If you believe what you read in the papers) manmade object to make contact with the moon's surface was the Russian probe Luna 2 in 1959. In the relatively short time since then, humans have piled up a surprising amount of junk on the moon (including the Russian Lunokhod 1 robot rover, pictured below.

So what? Well, ponder this:

Microscopic living organisms are everywhere on Earth. I mean everywhere. One could go quite mad by pondering to just what degree everything on this planet, including ourselves, is teeming with invisible microbial critters. Some of them, such as the Tardigrade or "Water Bear", survive and thrive in literally any environment you throw at it (heat, cold, pressure, radioactivity), as long as there just a microdrop of water - mere water vapor, even - for it to subsist in.

What this means is, by making physical contact with the moon repeatedly via manned and unmanned visits, we have inadvertently infected it with our cloud of invisible microbes. If there wasn't life on the moon before, there most certainly is now, because we put it there. Every piece of equipment we brought to the moon had opportunities for microscopic stowaways, with no real system to even try to prevent it. At the time, we were more concerned about contaminating the Earth with anything that might have been on the moon, but we didn't stop to worry that we were spreading our own bacteria there in the first place. The Apollo spacecraft toilets even released the unprocessed urine of the astronauts directly into near-moon space!

As noted on theguardians.com:

When the Apollo 12 astronauts visited the Moon they landed near Surveyor 3, a robot probe that had landed on the Moon several years before. They examined Surveyor to see how it had survived in the presence of vacuum, high and low temperatures, and intense radiation from both the Sun and interstellar cosmic radiation.

In order to allow experts to carry out examinations in controlled laboratory conditions, the astronauts removed the video camera from Surveyor, sealed it in a sterile bag and brought it back to Earth.

When the camera was examined it was found to be the home of a colony of bacteria, Streptococcus mitis. However these were not space monsters, but had come from Earth.

This is all bad enough, but the new revelation of water on the moon now means that there are greatly heightened chances for these Earthly microbes to thrive and multiply there. Do the math. We know bacteria thrive in water. We know we left bacteria on the moon. And now we know there is water there.


1 comment:

  1. Yikes! Uh-oh, indeed. This was one of those, 'Why did that never occur to me?' moments.

    And as though we have no experience with the often disastrous results of introducing biologic agents that are foreign to a given environment . . .

    For all the reasons it seemed ill-advised to bomb our Moon (on its South Pole), on whose stable orbit we are entirely reliant, we may have also just disseminated any organisms collected in the water all over Luna's surface.