I find myself torn. I relish the day when we find life on another world. Exploring the diversity of the alien life forms, discovering how this life is similar to us, how it is different. I think this would be a pivotal moment for mankind. But then I think, “Do I want to find life on Mars?”
One may think, “Why not Mars?” This is the dilemma in which I find myself. I would rather find life on Titan, or Enceladus, or Europa. The reason for this is quite simple: The Jovian and Saturnian (Cronian?) satellites are not habitable for us. Mars is.
Why does this make a difference? If we find life on Mars, do we have a duty to protect that life? Do we have a duty to leave Mars alone? Do we have a duty not to introduce our life on what is quite possibly a fragile ecosystem? If we find life on Mars, we should not colonize that planet. For the Trekkers, we should follow the Prime Directive.
The same holds true if we find evidence of past life or fossils. I’m sure scientist, astro-biologists and astro-paleontologists(?), will want to get on the surface and start digging, but do we put people there and risk contaminating what little life may be left? Just putting humans on the surface will contaminate Mars. That is an inevitability. We cannot guarantee that the probes we have landed have not already contaminated the environment. If so, it may already be too late.
If Mars has never harbored life, no dilemma would exist. We can settle as many people as we want or need. We can mine, process minerals, open casinos, whatever the need, and not worry about endangered alien species.
All in all, I’m hoping life does not exist on Mars. I would rather colonize Mars with a clear conscience, not worried about annihilating the last vestiges of an extraterrestrial microbial community.