Could Milky Way Star Systems Become “Infected” By ‘The Earth Strain’?


When the Apollo 11 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific they were immediately whisked off into quarantine, spending three weeks in a rather unglamorous steel shell for fear that they'd contracted lethal space-plagues.  A recent paper by Professor Cockell of the Open University points out that the flow of life is more likely to be FROM the vast dirty ball teeming with billions of organisms TO the utterly dead space rocks.  Who could have guessed?

The idea is that hardy hitchhikers on our interplanetary probes could face alien ecosystems with "The Earth Strain", and they won't even have a rugged team of determined scientists to find a cure.  Never mind that anything capable of surviving extended exposure to cosmic rays would have to be King Hardcore of the microorganic kingdom.

One problem with this viewpoint is that it talks about the spread of Terran life as 'contamination', which is like describing painting as 'contaminating' a pristine canvas.  In case you haven't noticed we haven't actually found any life anywhere yet, and if we can bring some to a habitable location then it's not just a good idea – it's our duty.

In a vast, cold universe we aren't just "Keepers of the Sacred Flame" of life, we are the bloody flame, and like Prometheus before us we must share this infinitely precious resource (hopefully without the subsequent eagle/liver unpleasantness).  There are life-capable habitats out there that just haven't lucked into the right chemical sequence to get the party started.  Bacteria from Earth could be the only trigger needed, the difference between waiting for lightning to strike and using a match.

If we do find alien life then by all means avoid contaminating them with the War-of-the-Worlds-ending common cold, but that's no problem. If there's one thing we've learned from our history of space flight it's that destroying our craft before they get somewhere is easy.  It's preventing the damn things from exploding that's the trick.

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