Have NASA’s Mars Rovers Violated The Prime Directive?

All Star Trek fans are familiar with the ‘Prime Directive’, which mandates that Starfleet is to not interfere with the natural development of other species, especially primitive ones. For years NASA has been studying Mars and searching for life forms, but a new scientific study suggests they may have actually destroying signs of life…oops.

 

IT’S A COOKER!
Like the Viking landers in the 70s, the current Mars Phoenix lander has not detected any life. But a new study is questioning the method by which they are trying to find that evidence of life, suggesting that they may be destroying the evidence in the process of looking for it. That is what is suggested in a new Scientist article on the study

From New Scientist article ‘Mars robots may have destroyed evidence of life’:

…last year, NASA’s Phoenix lander, which also failed to detect organics on Mars, stumbled on something in the Martian soil that may have, in effect, been hiding the organics: a class of chemicals called perchlorates.

At low temperatures, perchlorates are relatively harmless. But when heated to hundreds of degrees Celsius they release a lot of oxygen, which tends to cause any nearby combustible material to burn. For that very reason, perchlorates are used in rocket propulsion.

The Phoenix and Viking landers looked for organic molecules by heating soil samples to similarly high temperatures to evaporate them and analyse them in gas form. When Douglas Ming of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and colleagues tried heating organics and perchlorates like this on Earth, the resulting combustion left no trace of organics behind.

What would Captain Picard say!? The good news is that the upcoming lander from the European Space Agency will use a different method, which New Scientist says will use a lower temperature and not destroy any organics in the process.


Phoenix scoops up soil for the cooker – is it destroying evidence of life in the process?

 

TrekMovie Programming Note: Science Friday taking a break
As I noted recently on Twitter, Kayla is on a real science field trip and so our weekly science update column is on hiatus for about three weeks. But if any big science news crops up (especially with a Trek connection), I will try to fill in for her.

newest oldest
Notify me of

Hmm, should we be expecting an invasion force of organics in the near futures on a revenge mission? We need to be a Febreze shield stat! :P

Harry Ballz

Hey, what did the Martians ever do for US???

WolfTrek

If the current process is considered a violation, then we should consider not leaving this planet, lest we step on the rights of single celled organisms. Let alone what we can introduce into their ecosystem with a single breath.
I’d hate to see the PD become crippled by PC.

Y’know, I bet that’s all the Martians were trying to do in WAR OF THE WORLDS — collect & examine specimens. Not their fault if we got it all mixed up.

The Happy Klingon

Dr Marcus would be soooooooooooooooooooooooo angry right now.

I think the real question is….
Was Dr. Douglas Ming… merciless?

Yippeekaiyaymofo

can they cook or can’t they?

trekkie16

Where is Kirk when you need him. He is very good at explaining why his actions were not a violation of the Prime Directive. Something like: “yes but were the “perchlorates” really living? Their evolution and development had stalled. They were liivng on a planet with no Starbucks, Twitter or Reality TV. By introducing hundred of degrees of Celsius, we are allowing the “perchlorates” to explore their humanity and soon we will see little “perchlorates” growing and thriving”

Felix Sulla

Next thing you know, they’ll be trying to land probes on Talos IV. That’s the only death penalty on the books you know…

Sci-Fi Bri

they’re dead, jim

Dr.Flox

While that is interesting, there is a much BIGGER story that people are ignoring..that is the large amounts of METHANE being found in the martian atmosphere..
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=methane-on-mars-is-something

“Assuming that the methane is produced by internal processes on Mars, Atreya said that the source could be “geology, in which case it’s the reaction between water and rock, or it’s biology, in which case the microbes are producing the methane.” (Even the former explanation could be intriguing, as Mars is not thought to be very geologically active.) In either case, the discovery of individual methane plumes points to the existence of localized aquifers (water-bearing rock layers) under the surface, he said.”

Why are we bothered about Perchlorates, when a much more exciting and potentially definitive sign that life exists underground already exists in large quantities, effectively staring us in the face??? Since Mars is thought to be geologically dead (right?) there’s probably microbes giving off methane..thats what we’re talking about here.

As with all TrekMovie talk backs, I expect to be ignored and upsurped by some fool gassing about the shape of the Enterprise’s Nacelles…

AJ

It may be just a particle of pre-animate matter caught in de maytreex!

cylon01

damn those organics! damn them!

-anon cylon

Pat Payne

Maybe its something they can transplant.

Mike In Iowa

What most people don’t realize is that once the Viking lander touched down on Mars, it created an alternative timeline that we now know as our current reality. In the original (Prime) timeline, Mars is inhabited by a bunch of very friendly and helpful space travellers and we’re all off warping around the galaxy right now in totally groovy, 1980-ish space suits.

Stupid Viking lander. D’oah.

Hat Rick

Imagine if the forms of life on Mars were nanites, for example. Totally different from what we would expect, and yet perhaps destroyed by mistake through our very efforts to destroy them.

But what would you expect from Ugly Bags of Mostly Water?

;-)

ucdom

#11

I think a future mission is supposed to map the distribution of atmospheric methane – current evidence points to localised sources, which might suggest volcanic hotspots (could then be geology or biology still). Need to measure the carbon and hydrogen isotope fractionation. Tough though, the methane flux is really very small.

Lord Garth, Formerly of Izar

Picard would play his flute in a manly way, sip his tea and discuss it for 8 hours with the ships’ shrink in macho purple chairs and wring has hands. Kirk would punch out Captain Ron Tracey, recite the declaration of independence and beam back with his boys in time to bang a hottie before bed

THX-1138

“For years NASA has been studying Mars and searching for life forms, but a new scientific study suggests they may have actually destroying ‘sings’ of life…oops.”

In other news: Stevie Wonder is saddened.

There probably isn’t any Prime Directive in the new Trek universe. Too cerebral, not explodey or shiney enough for the new Trekkies.

Let’s face it, the new Kirk is more George W. Bush than Barack Obama- a rotten kid who had command handed to him on a silver platter. He’s more a brawler than a diplomat.

Besides, it’s hard to care about a few microbes when all of Vulcan is gone (and like the original Kirk, it died a dumb death at the hands of a third rate villain).

P.S. #11. Dr.Flox- Thank you for the science, but there’s certainly no place for that on the new Enterprise either- but I like hearing about it.

spiked canon

20–i see you’re still hanging around this site. why?

Hat Rick

20, I wasn’t aware that Bush helped save the universe, whatever his bar-room prowess, or lack thereof.

Doctor... Terminate Who?

Ah the galaxy quest method…

Is it alive?

Hit it with a rock, if it screams, then its alive.

#14/

Wait a minute. Something you can transplant?

Something you can transplant…

Cobalt 1365

#20, I agree, it is hard to care about real life when something so MONUMENTAL happened in a MOVIE! Absolutely. why care about scientific progress at all now that Vulcan is gone… moan!

John Umana

The big problem is that the Phoenix Lander discovered no organic carbon whatsoever. No tests conducted by the Viking Landers, Sojourner, the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers or the Mars Phoenix Lander has detected any evidence that there is or ever was life of any kind on the Red Planet though seas once covered portions of Mars billions of years ago. Though future landers (such as the Mars Science Lab) will run more sophisticated tests, don’t hold your breath. I predict that Mars and every other body in this sun system is abiotic other than Earth. Why is there no evidence of life on Mars? Still, I argue that the Milky Way Galaxy is teeming with life and with intelligent life. See Creation: Towards a Theory of All Things (amazon.com).

Daoud

The area we’ve “sampled” on Mars is equvalent to taking one red blood cell from your body. The chances of you dying from the removal of one cell is so close to zero, it’s not even epsilon.

No worries. The Prime Directive only applied to sentient beings in Star Trek. Otherwise, explain colony worlds! :)

ooba joagfjie

“There probably isn’t any Prime Directive in the new Trek universe. Too cerebral, not explodey or shiney enough for the new Trekkies.

Let’s face it, the new Kirk is more George W. Bush than Barack Obama- ”

oh shut up

Izbot

You know vhat shee’ll say…

I never understood how they honored the PD in either “Friday’s Child” or “A Private Little War,” when both were occupied by primitive tribes but both knew the Federation from their association with them, and were aware that they were from the stars. Even without arming them, their presence was not covert and had to make an impact.

hmmm...

nasa lies

Girl with a Life

The Prime Directive is a fictitious creation in an imaginary world. NASA is real. Get a life…

Capt. Terrell

“Maybe we can transplant it…”

fizzben

Ugly bags of mostly water!

“You boys HAVE to be clear on this. There can’t be so much as a microbe or the show’s off”

methinks we’re just not good enough at finding signs of life.

Capt Mike of the Terran Empire

OH!!! the Humanity!!!!!! How dare we kill all those Microbes. But Hey. Im from the Terran Empire. If they do not benfit us then who cares. I say Hit Mars with a full spread of Antimatter Bombs. Ha Ha Ha!!!!!

Capt Mike of the Terran Empire

#20. 20 Minutes in the Agoniser Booth for you.

Capt Mike of the Terran Empire

If we keep invading Mars. Then one day Mars may invade Earth

redshirt

short answer — no, they haven’t.

Magic_Al

It’s hard to believe nobody thought before now to test the life-detection experiment against known life on earth. Hard to believe, as in I don’t believe it.

colonyearth

to #9

Not in the alternate timeline. we have no evidence that Talos IV has even been discovered as of yet. Hmmmmmmmmm.

Trekker chick

@11

Actually, the Greater Thoats are incredibly flatulent. The Lesser Thoats, less so… but bad enough.

Alf, in pog form

The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one

I reply!

21. spiked canon – May 27, 2009
“20–i see you’re still hanging around this site. why?”

>>>>>>That’s a really good question- I kind of thought I should stop, but it’s a great site with really great Trek info that doesn’t relate to that movie I didn’t care for. Besides, even though the Trek universe as we knew it is gone as far as the movies are concerned, the next movie HAS to be better than the first!

Also, after checking it almost every day for two years, it’s really hard to stop!
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

22. Hat Rick – May 27, 2009
“20, I wasn’t aware that Bush helped save the universe, whatever his bar-room prowess, or lack thereof.”

>>>> The new Kirk hasn’t saved the universe. He failed to save Vulcan, and Spock saved the Earth (because apparently Earth and Vulcan lack any planetary defenses). Kirk saved Pike. And his stats for winning fist fights are probably about equal with GW’s.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

25. Cobalt 1365 – May 27, 2009
“#20, I agree, it is hard to care about real life when something so MONUMENTAL happened in a MOVIE! Absolutely. why care about scientific progress at all now that Vulcan is gone… moan!”

>>>>>>>>>the really funny thing is that you took what I said seriously, and got mad at it. C’mon.

…though it IS real messed up and sad that Vulcan is gone! Exactly where in that movie was the optimism J.J. kept talking about?
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

28. ooba joagfjie – May 27, 2009
““There probably isn’t any Prime Directive in the new Trek universe. Too cerebral, not explodey or shiney enough for the new Trekkies.

Let’s face it, the new Kirk is more George W. Bush than Barack Obama- ”

oh shut up”

>>>>>>>>>>Nice rebuttal, 28!
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

37. Capt Mike of the Terran Empire – May 27, 2009
“#20. 20 Minutes in the Agoniser Booth for you.”

>>>>>>>>>>>Oh, I’m feelin’ it Mike, believe me!
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

41. colonyearth – May 27, 2009
to #9
“Not in the alternate timeline. we have no evidence that Talos IV has even been discovered as of yet. Hmmmmmmmmm.”

…and it never will, at least not by Pike- and Spock will never kidnap him back there- Vina will have to die alone.

Same goes for all these wonderful “Wrath of Khan” quotes- that history’s gone. In the movie universe, anyway.

But we know it happened. Real Star Trek Lives :-)

Matt

The idea of destroying inadvertently destroying life on Mars, or perhaps contaminating the planet is a very big concern for all the world’s scientists and engineers that have been privileged enough to take part in a mission to Mars. However this article, no matter how thought provoking, contains many factual errors and doesn’t portray the situation with much accuracy.

Phoenix, Spirit and Opportunity were not designed to detect life. It’s true that Phoenix could detect some organics compounds, but that term reflects a very broad range of things… most of which are not life. The TEGA ovens on Phoenix, which helped to detect the perchlorates, do not ramp up to several hundreds of degrees instantly. Instead, they took several days to do so, with sensors monitoring the content released from the sample at every step of the way. Whatever was in there was detected before it was destroyed, and it would not have been possible to detect life regardless.

The next mission to Mars is *not* Europe’s ‘ExoMars’ mission, which launches in 2016, but NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory in 2011. It contains more of a chemistry set that could come closer to detecting life. Ovens are involved, but those guys know what they’re doing.

Sorry for the long-winded comment, but if the issue is going to be discussed it should be discussed using the proper information. Sadly, much of this article is incorrect.

Matt

I’ve got many grammatical errors in that long comment. Sorry about that. :-p

Hat Rick

44, without Kirk, Nero would have destroyed the Earth and eventually the entire Federation. It was Kirk’s ideas and actions that forced Spock to resign his commission and allowed the Enterprise to engage Nero at Sector 001 — Earth, actually.

Nero had obviously secured the subspace security grid codes from Pike and had preempted Earth’s planetary defenses. He was about to turn Earth into a very small place inside a very voracious black hole when Kirk’s Enterprise saved the day.

So…. George Bush did the same?

Spock

There might have been some episodes of DS9 where they didn’t violate the Prime Directive, but that’s basically it. And their excuse was that they didn’t have a ship yet.

Honestly, screw the Prime Directive. They didn’t pay attention to it in Star Trek and neither should we.

Prime directive? Well, each of the series kinda danced around that.

At worst, the PD was constantly violated and at best, minimal damage was the intent of the crews…or if not totally followed to the letter, but that was not often at all

Steve

The Prime Directive is so much a set of rules, more like ‘guidelines’! ;-)