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How to keep humans from ruining the search for life on Mars

Microbes from Earth might complicate human junkets to the Red Planet

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11:30am, January 10, 2018
illustration of astronauts on Mars

MUCKING UP MARS  Scientists are racing to figure out how to keep astronauts and potential life on Mars safe from one another before humans arrive at the Red Planet.

T he Okarian rover was in trouble. The yellow Humvee was making slow progress across a frigid, otherworldly landscape when planetary scientist Pascal Lee felt the rover tilt backward. Out the windshield, Lee, director of NASA’s Haughton Mars Project, saw only sky. The rear treads had broken through a crack in the sea ice and were sinking into the cold water.

True, there are signs of water on Mars, but not that much. Lee and his crew were driving the Okarian (named for the yellow Martians in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel The Warlord of Mars) across the Canadian Arctic to a research station in Haughton Crater that served in this dress rehearsal as a future Mars post. On a 496-kilometer road trip along

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