Scientists Warn Elon Musk's Tesla May Destroy Life on Mars
We all had a good laugh when Ol' Musky launched his Tesla Roadster into space with a mannequin astronaut named Starman—what classic hijinks from the world's favorite mad rocket scientist.
What no one took into account, however, was that the Tesla was not sterilized prior to launch, like nearly every other thing we launch into space.
Now, according to Purdue University, we risk the Tesla crash-landing on Mars and populating the Martian landscape with invasive Earth bacteria...or inadvertently acting as a "back-up copy" of life on Earth and potentially kick-starting life on Earth after a cataclysmic event.
Let's start with the threat to Mars.
The Threat to Mars
You might think that the vacuum of space would be pretty good insurance against anything living on the hull of a spacecraft (or luxury car), but that's not the case: certain types of Earth bacteria can withstand the cold temperatures, radiation, and lack of oxygen.
For this reason, NASA usually sterilizes landers and other spacecraft designed to travel to other worlds. That didn't happen with the Tesla, whose orbit could cause it to crash on either Earth or Mars (or the Sun).
According to Jay Melosh at Purdue, "If there is an indigenous Mars biota, it's at risk of being contaminated by terrestrial life. Would Earth's organisms be better adapted, take over Mars and contaminate it so we don't know what indigenous Mars was like, or would they be not as well adapted as the Martian organisms? We don't know."
But here's the thing: the Tesla probably won't crash-land for another million years or so.
Why Tiny Bacteria Is a Big Deal
Bacteria can survive that long by undergoing a freeze-drying process that keeps them preserved until conditions improve. Hell, we've already proven that life survives on Mars for literally millions of years.
According to Alina Alexeenko, another professor at Purdue, this means the Tesla could potentially act as a bacterial ark:
"The load of bacteria on the Tesla could be considered a biothreat, or a backup copy of life on Earth."
Re-Starting Life on Earth
Just as there's potential for these bacteria to colonize Mars, there's the possibility that the Tesla could crash back to Earth and re-colonize Earth after life has been wiped out, either by an asteroid or by other means (like the zombie apocalypse Musk claims he isn't secretly planning).
We're not sure what's more awe-inspiring: The fact that one man's publicity stunt could drastically alter the ecosystem of an entire planet, or that it may become the genesis of new life on a post-apocalyptic Earth.