Here's Everything You Need to Know About Water on Mars
What Humanity Gains From Traveling to Mars
On Earth, where there's liquid water there's life, so when NASA made this discovery, astrobiologists got really excited. Although it would be totally unadvisable to drink Mars water from the source -- because it contains highly toxic salts -- there's the possibility that some kind of basic Mars life may be using this water as an oasis. To test the hypothesis, scientists would LOVE to send a Mars rover mission to the slopes where these water flows have been found.
But, Houston, we may have a problem...
Although NASA goes through great pains to sanitize their hardware before it leaves Earth to land on Mars, some hardy Earth bacteria are known to be particularly adept at surviving in extreme conditions, surviving the decontamination procedures. Also, as cleaning solar panels, circuit boards, gears, bolts and cables costs a lot of money, NASA has cut back on some decontamination measures to save cash.
Now that NASA's Mars program is more focused on seeking out "habitable environments" rather than specifically searching for life, might bacteria from Earth be hitching a ride?
There's been concerns about NASA's Curiosity rover currently exploring Gale Crater. After the rover was launched to Mars before landing in August 2012, the rover's wheel tread and drill bits were singled out as possible safe-havens for microbes. Although some of the flows of liquid water have been discovered in the vicinity of Curiosity, astrobiologists have warned NASA that the rover may be contaminated enough to deposit some Earthly microbe on these slopes and they could potentially set up home on Mars, using this toxic water as fuel.
Of course, it's a long-shot, but when searching for arguably the most important discovery for human-kind, it would be great to know that the aliens we discover are indeed extra-terrestrial microbes and not terrestrial germs taking a really wild trip.
Could Earth Germs Colonize Mars? (DNews)
"Since its daredevil landing on Mars last summer, NASA's Curiosity rover has been avidly exploring its new home in Gale Crater. But there's been one worry that several people have voiced since Curiosity launched - what if the rover contaminates the surface of Mars with Earth life?"
Microbial stowaways to Mars identified (Nature)
"Dozens of microbial species may have accompanied the Curiosity rover to Mars, where it landed in August 2012. The stowaways withstood spacecraft cleaning methods before the rover's launch, although no one knows for sure whether the bacteria survived the inter-planetary ride."