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Guest: Dr. Jose Lopez: Topic: We discussed the paper by Dr. Lopez and his associates, "Inevitable future: space colonization beyond Earth with microbes first." You can get this paper via my blog comment for this show that has a link for downloading it. I suggest you also read the Gizmodo article about the paper and the work being done in this area by Dr. Lopez and his associates. The Gizmodo link is part of the same blog comment with the link to the Dr. Lopez paper.
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We welcomed Dr. Jose Lopez to the program to discuss his paper per above. Please be sure to read this paper. I also suggest you follow along with it in parts as our discussion unfolds. Note that this was a one segment almost 90 minute discussion with one phone call and multiple email questions for our guest. We started out by asking Dr. Lopez to give us the undergraduate level introduction to his paper and the idea of spreading microbes through the solar system and especially on Mars. In addition, we wanted to know how this differed from planetary protection policy and guidelines. I also asked him about the somewhat negative and challenging Gizmodo article. Here, we learned that Dr. Lopez encouraged challenging and provocative interviews to get a discussion going about the importance of microbes in space and the benefit to human life with microbes, both Earth and for sure in space, even on Mars. Our guest mentioned other articles written about the paper that were designed to be provocative though he did say the Popular Science article was less provocative that others.
During the first part of our program, Dr. Lopez spent lots of time talking about microbes, what they do, what they don't do, how they sustain life on Earth, how and why they are on humans and even in us like gut bacteria all the time. He said it would be impossible to do space travel without taking microbes with us. He made the case for much needed research around the concept of exploring space with understanding the role of microbes which would be a different paradigm and perspective than what we have today. He continued to talk about the need for a new view of space exploration, once which faced the reality regarding microbes and the role they play with all life on Earth. He made a case that even life on Mars, if ever confirmed, would likely have some structural similarities to life here on Earth with its own microbes. Listen to what he had to say, many times over, regarding human and possible Martian microbes coming in contact with one another. You might be surprised by what he said about such an event should it happen
Dr. Lopez introduced us to microbial symbiosis and microbial ecology, both on Earth but also how these areas might apply to Mars and human spaceflight and settlement. He had much to say microbes living with one anther and even inside of another for just one entity. We also talked about microbiome and human biome. International planetary protection came up with COSPAR plus he talked about the importance of some aspects of planetary protection. For example, he was very cautious about the possibility of bringing unknown Martian life back to Earth. Don't miss this discussion. In addition, when Marshall called, he talked about creating a Martian simulation lab on the Moon to study Martian sole, Martian microbes and maybe Martian life if discovered and confirmed.
When Marshall called, he brought up the classic "War f the Worlds" and linked it to the discussion with Jose because he said eventually the foreign Martian life was destroyed and killed by Earth bacteria/microbes. With Marshall on the line, we talked about terraforming Mars and protecting the biodiversity here on Earth. Dr. Lopez called for more analysis and research regarding microbes for Mars before going there with humans. Let us know what you think about these issues by posting on our blog. When asked if Musk should go to Mars with people when able, he said "no problem" Furthermore, he said it was a necessary type of proof of purpose.
Later in the discussion, in an email Karen said might it be possible to shield and isolate human microbes from mixing on Mars by being in a spacesuit on the surface and in a pressurized sealed environment when not on the surface. Our guest said that might be possible though you still had the problem of human waste disposal plus as humans handled the spacesuits and the gear that would be on the surface and exposed to the surface, such gear would have human microbes on them. The simple fact is that microbes will go with humans wherever we go and we need more research to understand what this means and what it will ultimately look like.
Listener Barry asked our guest a few questions about the Tesla going into space several months ago since many planetary protection advocates were very critical of Musk for putting it in space. Others favoring a less planetary protection regulatory regime championed the Musk Tesla in space in the vicinity of Mar. As part of this discussion, Jose pointed out in an answer to Alex that microbes have been found on dust particles and even in the stratosphere. Don't miss these comments. As part of the same discussion, I asked if microbes were different depending on our the country we live in, culture, and gender. Listen to what Jose said in response to this question. You might be surprised by his answer. This question was asked in part due to the likelihood of a multinational and multicultural crew going to Mars or favoring space settlement.
As we were approaching the end of the program, I took the liberty to ask Jose about humans mixing their microbes up with dog microbes. Jose had a lot to say about our pets and the benefits to humans and how we do indeed mix our microbes with the microbes of the pets. He talked about the benefits of this, especially for children as it makes us stronger and helps us to develop a stronger, more resistant immune system. We were now at the end of the program so I asked our guest what was next for his research. I made a few space conference suggestions for him where he might present his paper and then he concluded by saying a lot more R&D was needed to test microbes in space and on Mars before humans go there. He thought some of this work might be done on private missions. I made the suggestion that a SpaceX demo flight to Mars might carry such an experiment. I then commented that it would probably be a very competitive process to get an experiment on a SpaceX demo flight to Mars. In concluding his comments, Dr. Lopez said that we really needed to understand the role of microbes for humans in the space environment.
Please post your comments/suggestions on the blog for this show. You can reach Dr. Lopez through his faculty page at Nova Southeaster University or me.