The Prime Directive in the 21st century

The Prime Directive forbids protagonists to interfere with the normal development of any life on any planet or celestial body, especially life that hasn’t been as fully developed like the visiting crew. Even though interfering could mean saving lives, then still one should not as it could disturb the development life on that planet would otherwise have. It’s not an easy rule to follow. But who is to say that a little interference that seems like a good idea at the time, will be a good idea for the future to come. In the universe of Star Trek personnel of Starfleet struggle on a regular basis with this rule as their job is not just to discover but also to protect.

This may be 24th century problems but we already deal with the very same concept today. We’re looking for life outside our planet and the chances are good that we will find it in our very own solar system. Mars is a good candidate. But so are Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede and the planet Venus. These are just a few examples. Life could hide in a dense atmosphere, hide in dusty rocks or lure underneath a thick layer of ice. Underneath that ice may be oceans that contain liquid water and is heated by the gravitational pull of their planet and other bigger moons in orbit.

Fascinating! We humans can’t go there ourselves yet, so we don’t run the risk that an astronaut will accidentally step on a life form and ruin the entire future ecosystem of that world. So why don’t we send our orbiters there, land on the surface and drill a hole into the ground and start exploring!? If only things were that easy. Technology however is getting more and more advanced so it will be possible to drill bigger holes in for instance Mars. A few millimeter won’t get us very far, even the most hopeful scientist will agree to that. To get to the oceans of for instance Europa, we will have to dig deeper, meaning we need to send a pretty large drill that may not weigh too much or else the project will get too costly and we need to have a camera attached to that drill so we will actually be able to see what’s out there. And of course a pretty mean transmitter that will be able to send all that data back to us.

The good news is, science is working on that and it all seems possible. Great! There’s no doubt a curious billionaire that will ‘borrow’ the missing money for development and doesn’t SpaceX have some qualified rockets available? So, what are we waiting for? Well, if there really is life out there, we don’t want to contaminate it with earthly germs.

First of all we don’t know what kind of life is out there. To keep to the Star Trek theme, it may be life, but not as we know it. If that’s the case, there is no knowing what will happen to the life form when it comes in contact with an earthly hitchhiking germ. We may cause mutilation and possibly extinction of that form of life. Humans have a horrible trackrecord of destroying and eliminating life on their own planet already, let’s try and not expand that in the universe so we may pretend to have a good name for the aliens.

Even if it’s a life form we recognise, exposing it to our life may still be a bad idea. The environment on say Titan is completely different than that from Earth. How would an earthly life form even react under such conditions? It’s unknown territory, we have no way of testing what will happen. Once we get drilling through the ice, there is no way back. Damage will be done. We will change something. It doesn’t even matter if it’s for the better or the worse.

So, we don’t send any germs to Callisto, got it! But this is a difficult thing to do. Where humans work, there are germs. We can do everything in our power to make sure the orbiter and the landing module and the drill get as sterile as possible on that rocket. Well, that rocket. That rocket can’t be expected to be completely sterile. It will soar through our atmosphere and yes, will only suffice as the transporter out of our atmosphere. The rocket will not reach the surface of Titan. But. Can we exclude that no contamination will be present on the actual lander? As much as we try, and the chance is incredibly small, I mean, really small, we can’t exclude any earthly germs landing on the surface, as any lander before will have high guarantees but not a full 100%. This isn’t a problem on lifeless worlds but it may be if there is. We just don’t know it yet.

Somehow Earth will become part of the United Federation of Planets and Earth will send out explorers into the universe so we will overcome this problem in the future. Whether this will mean humans will influence other life in the solar system and the universe for that matter, has yet to be seen. But who is to say that life on Earth hasn’t been pushed into the direction it has gone without help from outer space? Maybe life is meant to contaminate other worlds in order to thrive. There is only one way to find out. I’m confident that humans will confirm extraterrestrial life of any kind within 20 years from now. And it will change everything.

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