What’s up with those fancy white suits of the astronauts on a planetary mission? Is this just a “uniform”, or does it serve some greater purpose? Although most of us think that the suits are required to enable the astronauts to breathe or perform some weird functions on the alien planet, the reason is far more fundamental and important!
The primary reason behind these suits is Planetary protection, a treaty which is a guiding principle to define the rules of engagement when an interplanetary mission is in question. The theory behind it is to prevent biological contamination or any other kind of disruption due to our extra terrestrial adventures.
There are two kinds of interplanetary contamination: forward contamination and back contamination. In forward contamination, viable organisms are transferred from Earth to another celestial body. However, back contamination is the opposite of forward contamination.
NASA is making some deliberate efforts to ensure that this interplanetary contamination is avoided. The key reason is that we don’t want to destroy the validity of the experimental results of our exploratory missions. When planning a space mission, cross contamination and its counteracting measures are one of the biggest issues besides the development of craft. If this happens, we would never know if life already existed on these planets, or we sent it from our planet.
Moreover, terrestrial microbes are capable of growing in the right conditions. If we accidentally introduce life where it didn’t exist before, this could disrupt the ecosystem. We may also wipe out the living creatures on the planet by sending some dirty probes in the space. It might release colonies of bacteria that are even more stronger than the natives.