NASA unveils rules for protecting space from our germs

13 Juillet, 2020, 07:09 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • NASA-Perseverance-Rover

It's a concept known as planetary protection, and it has a legal basis in a treaty signed more than 50 years ago. Planetary protection is also focused on keeping humans safe, too.

Amy Baker, SETI Project Manager, instructs proper sampling technique during the 2019 course Planetary Protection: Policies and Practices at NASAs Kennedy Space Center on May 1, 2019. For some, that means getting baked at high temperatures to kill off microbes and to make the vehicles as immaculate as possible. And whenever people go into space, we carry tons of bacteria with us, no matter how much we clean.

The two directives, introduced by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine throughout a "Moon Dialogs" webinar, are portion of an energy by NASA to modernize tips that are many years previous and which the agency thinks could hinder its lengthy-time period human exploration options.

The depth of mission experience and breadth of knowledge on the SETI Institute team will help NASA meet the technical challenges of assuring forward and backward planetary protection on the anticipated path of human exploration from the Moon to Mars, said Lisa Pratt, NASAs planetary protection officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. It follows years of urging from the space community to update these rules.

'Because that's just not possible'.

The first directive revolves around reclassifying parts of the Moon so that there are less restrictions for sending spacecraft and people there.

NASA's Planetary Protection Policies are created to prevent biological contamination of both Martian worlds and our Earth in the event germs from another planet find their back home when a mission returns. And whenever there's water somewhere in the Solar System, scientists are always cautious about the possibility of it sustaining some kind of life.

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The new interim directive would reclassify the Moon as mostly a Category I body, which doesn't require any planetary protection requirements because there's no expectation of finding life. Bridenstine said the regulations were developed to protect the interests of the scientific, commercial, and human communities.

Such places would include the lunar south pole, which is believed to host quite a bit of water ice in its craters that are permanently in shadow.

'Under Category II, you can go there, but we just have to be really careful to inventory all of the biology that we may be taking with us'.

The 2nd directive addresses foreseeable future human missions to Mars, a world with a lot increased planetary safety requirements. Right now, Mars is a fairly restricted planet. To landers, it is a Category IV site, meaning there is a major interest in discovering life there and a large risk of pollution.

NASA does not suggest changing the Mars classification. Yet the interim order calls for the agency to come up with new recommendations based on what we keep learning about Mars from future missions such as the launch of this summer's Perseverance rover. "These are not policy directives; they're not set in stone", he said.

Such proposed proposals are the latest in a series of improvements and new rules that NASA is making as it tries through the Artemis initiative to go back to the Moon. In May, NASA announced the creation of the Artemis Accords, a set of global standards for exploring the Moon that it hopes other countries will follow.

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