No, that’s not a misprint in the title. Chances are that if — or when — NASA probes detect life somewhere Out There, they will likely be discovering something that once lived on Earth.

When “Clean” is Dirty

The clean rooms (both in America and abroad) where space probes are assembled have been touted as the “cleanest” places on the planet, but that might not be good enough:

. . . recent research findings have put a dampener on NASA’s quest to discover ET. In this case, it was not what was found (or not found) on Mars or Europa (a moon of Jupiter) or Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) that dealt a blow to NASA’s alien life project. Rather, it was what was found here on Earth — in NASA’s own spacecraft assembly and launch facilities, to be precise. — David Catchpoole, “NASA Shock: ET from Earth,” CMI, February 2013

Don’t Forget to Wash You Hands

Those little “bugs” are everywhere:

Unfortunately for NASA, despite their best efforts to make their ‘clean rooms’ sterile, several research surveys over the past few years have detected bacteria there. Not just in one of their labs, but across four of NASA’s clean rooms in distinct geographical locations. — Ibid.

And some of them are really tough:

The bacteria were able to withstand NASA’s strict cleaning protocol — and more. The various types of bacteria found were described as extremotolerant, i.e. able to survive extreme conditions. — Ibid.

Those “extreme conditions” include exposure to radiation, hydrogen peroxide, excess heat or cold, and hypersaline environments not normally encountered on Earth, places most of us would assume to be unlivable hell holes.

“Unknown to Science”

As if all that weren’t enough of a problem for the clean room technicians:

Many of the bacteria found in NASA’s clean rooms were species that “did not belong to any previously described bacterial species and warrant description as novel species.” — Ibid.

— in other words, microbes as yet unobserved by scientists. The implications for NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are enormous:

This raises colossal issues for NASA’s quest for extra-terrestrial life. One summarizing report put it this way, as it highlighted the finding of “a broad diversity in the types of bacteria able to grow in the most hostile environments including almost 100 types of bacteria, about 45 percent of which were previously unknown to science. The findings were something of a shock for NASA, an agency now forced to wonder exactly how many unknown pathogens have been taken to the moon and Mars.” — Ibid.

You can read Catchpoole’s full article here.