The SpaceX CEO hopes humans will land on Mars by 2024 in their Starship rocket which will reach the Red planet and then return to Earth. It comes as Mr Musk faces criticism from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine for taking too long to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). After voicing his opinion online, Mr Bridenstine will visit the SpaceX HQ to see what is going on.
Ms Rolfe wrote on The Conservation: “There is a risk that microbe-ridden humans walking on the red planet could contaminate it with bugs from Earth.
“Contamination may threaten alien organisms, if they exist.
“It may also make it impossible to figure out whether any microbes found on Mars later on are martian or terrestrial in origin.
“A mission to return samples from Mars to Earth is expected to be completed by the early 2030s, with all the collection work completed by sterilised robots.
“While such missions pose a certain risk of contamination too, there are rigorous protocols to help minimise the chance.”
Ms Rolfe went on to ask whether corners won’t be cut in such a short time frame that standards might slip.
She added: “If SpaceX was serious about planetary protection, I would expect to see a policy on its website, or easily found by searching ‘SpaceX planetary protection’.
“But that isn’t the case. So while it is possible that it has a rigorous planetary protection plan in place behind the scenes, its public-facing content seems to suggest that pushing the boundaries of human exploration is more important than the consequences of that exploration.”
As a result, NASA has continued to rely on Russia’s Soyuz rocket to take American astronauts to the ISS.
NASA is unhappy that Mr Musk and SpaceX have no unveiled the Starship rocket, while promises have been unfulfilled with the space agency.
Mr Bridenstine tweeted: “Commercial Crew is years behind schedule.
“NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It’s time to deliver.”