NRC Updates Planetary Protection Guidelines for Mars Sample Return

NRC Updates Planetary Protection Guidelines for Mars Sample Return

The Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Research Council released a new report on May 13 updating planetary protection guidelines for samples that someday may be returned to Earth from Mars. Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return updates a 1997 SSB report.

The report found that discoveries about Mars since 1997 enhance the possibility that habitable environments once were widespread on Mars and could exist today. At the same time, our understanding of life on Earth in extreme environments has grown.

“A substantial and growing body of evidence shows that life not only is present but also frequently thrives under extreme environmental conditions.”

The report recommends that “samples returned from Mars by spacecraft should be contained and treated as though potentially hazardous until proven otherwise. No uncontained Martian material, including spacecraft surfaces that have been exposed to the martian environment, should be returned to Earth unless sterilized.”

The report makes a number of other findings and recommendations, including that “the public should be informed about all aspects of Mars sample return….”

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