Orbiting Quarantine Facility

A space-based, orbiting quarantine facility (OQF) provides several distinct advantages. First, the OQF eliminates the possibility of a sample return spacecraft crashing and accidentally releasing a potentially deadly cargo of alien microorganisms. Second, the space-based facility guarantees that any alien organisms that might escape from confinement systems within the orbiting complex cannot immediately enter Earth's biosphere. Finally, the postulated OQF would ensure that all quarantine workers remain in total physical isolation during protocol testing.

As robot spacecraft and crewed vehicles expand the human sphere of influence into heliocentric space, people must also remain vigilant about the potential hazards of extraterrestrial contamination. Scientists, space explorers, and extraterrestrial entrepreneurs must be aware of the ecocatastrophes that might occur when "alien worlds collide"—especially on the microorganism level.

With a properly designed and operated orbiting quarantine facility, alien-world materials can be tested for potential hazards. Three hypothetical results of such protocol testing are: (1) No replicating alien organisms are discovered; (2) replicating alien organisms are discovered, but they are also found not to be a threat to terrestrial life-forms; or (3) hazardous replicating alien life-forms are discovered. If potentially harmful (hypothetical) replicating alien microorganisms are discovered during these protocol tests, then quarantine facility workers would either render the sample harmless (for example, through heat- and chemical-sterilization procedures); retain it under very carefully controlled conditions in the orbiting complex and perform more detailed analyses on the alien life-forms; or properly dispose of the sample before the alien life-forms could enter Earth's biosphere and infect terrestrial life-forms. If alien microorganisms infected any of the workers on the orbiting quarantine facility, the scientists would be kept isolated at the OQF and treated there. Under no

Exobiologists in an orbiting quarantine facility (OQF) test for potentially harmful alien microorganisms that might be contained in an extraterrestrial soil sample. (NASA)

circumstances would an infected human worker be allowed to return to Earth from the OQF.

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