In this episode, we look at the decontamination procedures used for the instruments making the journey to Mars with John Robert Brucato, Planetary Protection Manger at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF).
Brucato is in charge of the planetary protection of the DREAMS instruments, travelling to Mars aboard the ExoMars probe.
“Instruments that are on board the ExoMars mission, aimed to search for signs of life, must be sterilised before launch – to avoid contaminating the planet with terrestrial life,” Brucato explains.
“We know now that on Earth there are extraordinarily resistant bacteria, able to bear extreme environmental conditions and which could survive on board a space mission during an interplanetary journey.”
“The procedure for on board sterilisation of a space mission instrument involves putting the instrument in a high-temperature environment, at 120 degrees, for several hours or even days. In this way, we are sure to have no biological load on board.”
Looking towards future missions that “will bring Martian samples to Earth”, Brocato says: “today we are studying at European level how to develop a protected place to analyse these samples and to check whether there is extraterrestrial life on another planet.”