Friday, September 25, 2015

NASA's non-invasive fallacy

NASA has a philosophy of non-invasive behaviour during space exploration, perhaps colonization.

The existence of life on the moon or planets cannot . . . rationally be precluded. At the very least, present evidence is not inconsistent with its presence. . . . Negative data will not prove that extraterrestrial life does not exist; they will merely mean that it has not been found.

To contain any alien life forms, astronauts, spacecraft, and lunar materials coming back from the moon should be placed immediately in an isolation unit; the astronauts should be held in rigid quarantine for at least three weeks; and preliminary examination of the samples should be conducted behind absolute biological barriers, under rigid bacterial and chemical isolation.
The justification is to prevent harm to astronauts and space through decontamination at every level.   Makes sense from a personal protection perspective. But what about finding extra terrestrial (ET) life?

It is fallacious from a logic perspective. If external life doesn't exist, by this doctrine, and there is no way to find it but one can't stop the doctrine. One can't prove the existence of a non-existent thing, but this test says you have to keep testing forever; even if you know you can't find it! There is no limit on a potentially empty test. There is no acknowledgement that life might be found outside and above the level of microbes so why waste effort on virus / microbe level searching?

Without any hope of proving life exists this at this level this restrains freedom of action on many areas.

The problem with this mentality, born out of a university-level curiosity without impact ideal, is this: firing missiles into space and colliding them with space object is by itself an invasive act. Driving robots on lunar surfaces is contaminating a pristine natural object.  To spend inordinate sums to clean every surface of space probes only wastes resources. It doesn't prevent accidental trampling ET life at the microbe level.

If there is no life confirmed to live on Mars, we will have wasted much for nothing. It may take several life times to discover extraterrestrial life. All the while we are losing chances to change Mars to suitable conditions for humans. We could be terraforming it, we could be generating atmosphere using microbes launched at Mars.

Denying our ability to impact a planet like Mars is only slowing down progress not stopping the inevitable change.