Could a Crewed Mission Contaminate Mars?

Physicist Robert Park raised the unnerving possibility in this interesting Slate piece contrasting robotic and manned space exploration. 

“If we sent astronauts to Mars, they would travel for nine months and then have to sit on their hands for another 18 months, awaiting the next conjunction with Earth permitting departure. It's not a pretty picture; countless millions of Earth organisms would hitch a ride to Mars in every human gut and multiply in their excrement while there. We would find life on Mars, but it would look familiar. Mars should be quarantined.”
Read the rest

Meanwhile, our robotic astronaut Curiosity is beaming back stark and spectacular panoramas from its landing site in Gale Crater. Here’s what NASA has to say about the one above: 

PASADENA, Calif. – The first images from Curiosity's color Mast Camera, or Mastcam, have been received by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The 130 low-resolution thumbnails, which were received Thursday morning, provide scientists and engineers of NASA's newest Mars rover their first color, horizon-to-horizon glimpse of Gale Crater.

"After a year in cold storage, where it endured the rigors of launch, the deep space cruise to Mars and everything that went on during landing, it is great to see our camera is working as planned," said Mike Malin, principal investigator of the Mastcam instrument from Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. "As engaging as this color panorama is, it is important to note this is only one-eighth the potential resolution of images from this camera."
Curiosity's color panorama of Gale Crater is online at: . Additional images from Curiosity are available at:

Mission engineers devoted part of their third Martian day, or "Sol 3," to checking the status of four of Curiosity's science instruments after their long trip. The rover's Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, Chemistry and Mineralogy analyzer, Sample Analysis at Mars, and Dynamic of Albedo Neutrons instruments were each energized and went through a preliminary checkout.

The team also performed a check on the rover's second flight computer.

And in a recent news release, NASA announced that “Curiosity will spend its first weekend on Mars transitioning to software better suited for tasks ahead, such as driving and using its strong robotic arm.”