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. 1992;12(4):121-8.

Planetary Protection Issues and the Future Exploration of Mars

Collaborators, Affiliations
  • PMID: 11538130

Planetary Protection Issues and the Future Exploration of Mars

D L DeVincenzi. Adv Space Res. .


A primary scientific theme for the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) is the search for life, extant or extinct, on Mars. Because of this, concerns about Planetary Protection (PP), the prevention of biological cross-contamination between Earth and other planets during solar system exploration missions, have arisen. A recent workshop assessed the necessity for, and impact of, PP requirements on the unmanned and human missions to Mars comprising the SEI. The following ground-rules were adopted: 1) information needed for assessing PP issues must be obtained during the unmanned precursor mission phase prior to human landings; 2) returned Mars samples will be considered biologically hazardous until proven otherwise; 3) deposition of microbes on Mars and exposure of the crew to Martian materials are inevitable when humans land; and, 4) human landings are unlikely until it is demonstrated that there is no harmful effect of Martian materials on terrestrial life forms. These ground-rules dictated the development of a conservative PP strategy for precursor missions. Key features of the proposed strategy include: 1) for prevention of forward contamination, all orbiters will follow Mars Observer PP procedures for assembly, trajectory, and lifetime. All landers will follow Viking PP procedures for assembly, microbial load reduction, and bioshield; and, 2) for prevention of back contamination, all sample return missions will have PP requirements which include fail-safe sample sealing, breaking contact chain with the Martian surface, and containment and quarantine analysis in an Earth-based lab. In addition to deliberating on scientific and technical issues, the workshop made several recommendations for dealing with forward and back contamination concerns from non-scientific perspectives.

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