Could NASA Exploration Endanger Alien Life?

NASA explorations are generally thought to be about the best parts of what being human is all about.  The thrill of discovery, cooperation, and the powerful image of humanity reaching beyond its humble beginnings to stretch out into the stars is only one of numerous important elements in the Mars story.  And yet it seems like the exploration of distant planets may inadvertently destroy very simple alien life if it explores without caution a place like Titan.  So far they have been careful with prospective alien ecosystems, but how will we explore a planet where any single point could secretly harbor alien life?

While microbes here on Earth are often seen as a nuisance – even owing many diseases to their existence.  But microbes on an alien world would be quite a different matter.  The tiny single celled organisms would be simple, and likely resilient in a constantly shifting environment.  But even with the complexity of their ecosystem, the disruption of the tiniest plate from human contaminants such as the landing of a probe could disrupt them and change them inadvertently.  The observer effect suggests that nothing can be observed without inherently changing it, but the idea would be to limit this change in such a way as the alien life as it existed before contamination would be able to resume so that humans could study it and observe it.

A very similar problem would likely arise if any extraterrestrial entity were attempting to observe humans on Earth.  Knowing full well that its presence would inadvertently affect human civilization, this group may work to minimize the effect it had on people for a time, even to the point of actively covering up its existence.  The very fact that a UFO culture existed would stand as a testament that an alien presence could be profoundly affecting on the world below even without their direct contact.  Assuming the aliens acted with complete singularity, this would not be difficult to enforce.  Otherwise, these aliens would face a problem that we on Earth may one day come to deal with – the presence of groups that do not share their goals.  And so contamination of the sample may result either directly through tampering or indirectly as resources are gathered from the alien life’s native habitat.

Scientists, as time go on, are considering it increasingly unlikely that an advanced alien race may exist on Mars.  But they are very hopeful that simpler organisms or the fossils of organisms could reside on the planet’s surface deep underground or in areas where liquid water oceans could exist.  But could we have already begun the process of disrupting these organisms by sending rovers to the surface?  Once again the issue has to be coupled with a question, even if it in some way alters the native life forms is it worth visiting to try to find out if we’re alone in the universe?