Returning Martian Samples to Earth—Safely
July 28, 2022
NASA has reached a design milestone in its plans to bring soil and rock samples from Mars back to Earth for advanced study. Delivery isn’t scheduled until 2033. But as Bhavya Lal and Jeff Trauberman write in Issues, many observers want the space agency to do more now to beef up “planetary protection” to prevent extraterrestrial microbes or other potentially troublesome organic materials from contaminating Earth and its biosphere. Toward this aim, they offer five considerations that NASA should heed in developing policies and technical tools not only for preventing inbound contamination but also outbound contamination by human spacecraft.