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H.G. Wells, Crichton, and Planetary Protection

23 Feb 2012, 03:52 UTC
H.G. Wells, Crichton, and Planetary Protection
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Much of the challenge of communicating scientific concepts to the public at-large comes in attempting to find ways to make ideas easily digestible.
When talking about human space exploration, the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life, or the recovery of cultural artifacts from non-terrestrial sources, the concept of planetary protection is key. Basically, planetary protection stresses the importance of working to prevent the spread of biological contamination between worlds.
However, for those who are unfamiliar or who would prefer a succinct example to a rehash of the technical definition, allow me to take a stab at an explanation less esoteric: Planetary Protection in terms of Michael Crichton and H. G. Wells.

As arguably two of the most well-known science fiction authors of the 20th Century, it seems only fitting that each penned a story that together provide planetary protection’s two worst-case scenarios. [[PLOT SPOILER ALERT]]
In Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain,” a returning military satellite inadvertently carries with it an extraterrestrial pathogen, with fatal consequences for a retrieval team as well as a small Arizona town. This is a prime example of the dangers of returning to Earth from an extraterrestrial environment, and why planetary protection measures are important for us.
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