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Elon Musk's red Tesla Roadster which recently shot into space during SpaceX's rocket test flight may have carried the largest load of bacteria to go from earth to space, according to scientists.
Researchers at Purdue University in the US said that the Office of Planetary Protection at NASA ensure that spacecraft planning to land on other planets are sterile.
Researchers said that organisms from Earth could live on another planet and eradicate native organisms, similar to the movements of invasive species.
“If there is an indigenous Mars biota, it is at risk of being contaminated by terrestrial life," said Jay Melosh, a professor at Purdue University. Melosh also said the Office of Planetary Protection would not regulate spacecraft that would stay in orbit.
Elon Musk’s Tesla was sent into space as part of the freight for SpaceX's Falcon Heavy test flight on February 6.
Rocket test flights, in general, carry a dummy load. However, SpaceX founder Musk sent his personal Tesla Roadster.
The Tesla was not intended to land and therefore it was not cleaned before takeoff, Melosh said.
"Even if they radiated the outside, the engine would be dirty," he said. "Cars are not assembled clean. And even then, there is a big difference between clean and sterile."
Melosh said the Tesla could potentially land on Mars, although it was unlikely. The car is in an orbit crossing that of Earth and Mars, and it may end up striking Earth. But it is estimated it will be millions of years before that happens.
“The load of bacteria on the Tesla could be considered a biothreat, or a backup copy of life on Earth.”
Living organisms find a hostile environment in space due to extreme temperatures, low pressure, and unfiltered cosmic radiation. This, however, does not always kill them. Some bacteria become dormant in space and wake up when the conditions are right.
“The load of bacteria on the Tesla could be considered a biothreat, or a backup copy of life on Earth,” Alina Alexeenko, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University, said.
She works in a lab which specializes in freeze-drying bacteria and biologics. The freeze-drying technology is used for long-term preservation of live virus vaccines, bacteria, and biopharmaceuticals. This process is similar to what live organisms experience in space.
Tesla Roadster also carries other loads into space
The Tesla Roadster had a mannequin strapped into it named “Starman” in the driver’s seat. To see the triumphant voyage of Starman, the car is loaded with three cameras that shoot the car and passenger while they travel through space.
Elon Musk regularly tweets about the whereabouts of Starman and his precious cherry red Tesla. You can watch the live feed to the spacecraft from SpaceX's live webcast.
Starman is not all the car carries. It also has a plaque adorning the 6,000 employees of SpaceX who actively put effort to see this project happen. Also, the car contains the science fiction trilogy of Isaac Asimov safely stored in a data storage device.