This NASA Scientist is a Real-Life Guardian of the Galaxy

Space exploration is the subject of so many science fiction movies, and a dream of so many of us here on Earth. How great would it be to discover new worlds? To walk on different planets? It’s so tantalizing, it’s almost surreal – even though the likelihood is higher than we might be able to conceive.

But one thing we often don’t think about when we consider traveling space is what we might do to those other planets. What if the natural chemicals and bacteria in our body were poisonous to other extraterrestrial flora and fauna? Well, you might not believe it, but there are actual scientists dedicated to this exact area of study. The Jet Propulsion Lab (or JPL) in Pasadena, California is one such place where planetary protection specialists work to make sure we don’t infect other planets with our “human stuff.” In this Nerdist News Edition, we meet one of the scientists – Dr. Moo Cooper – who works at JPL and serves as a real-life “Guardian of the Galaxy.

Dr. Cooper takes Because Science‘s Kyle Hill to the “Mars Yard” in Pasadena, where NASA scientists train different spacecrafts to see how they might travel the terrain of the Red Planet. The Mars Yard contains a mock-up of Curiosity, the rover craft currently on Mars, among others. But scientists like Cooper don’t just simulate the surface of Mars; they also figure out what humans bring to Mars and how to deal with it.

At the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, Dr. Cooper shows Kyle other rovers headed to Mars, and how scientists are preparing it for that grand mission – which includes sterilizing them so human contamination doesn’t make it to outer space. Turns out, there are all sorts of gross human things that can infect a spacecraft.

But why should we care about infecting Mars? Because we want to display our good manners, of course.

If you’re a fan of Dr. Moo Cooper, be sure to check out her new series, Because Space, when it debuts on Nerdist on May 20.

Images: Because Science