ISLAMABAD-Carefully wrapped inside this donut-shaped bag is a 35-m diameter parachute that will endure a frenzied six-minute dive into the Martian atmosphere.

This qualification model is a copy of the largest-ever parachute to open on the Red Planet when it flies on the ExoMars 2022 mission – and it is at least 10,000 times cleaner than your smartphone.

The 64 kg parachute, made mostly of nylon and Kevlar fabrics, has been thoroughly sterilized to reduce its level of contamination for planetary protection.

One of the main goals of ExoMars is to search for signs of life on the Red Planet, so any microbes hitchhiking on its ride from Earth would interfere with the investigation and could trigger a false positive – what scientists call ‘forward contamination.’

The potential existence of past and perhaps even present life on Mars requires rigorous sterilization. Scientists want to be sure that the instruments on the ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin, only detect signs of indigenous life, but protecting the Martian environment from ourselves is equally as important.