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Current status and future perspectives in planetary protection

Current status and future perspectives in planetary protection

Nature Microbiology (2022)Cite this article

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Space exploration carries with it risks of biological contamination. Here, the planetary protection efforts currently in place to control microbial contamination during space exploration are discussed, including plans related to sample and crew returns to Earth from other Solar System destinations such as Mars.

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Since the dawn of the space age (and even slightly before), scientists have been concerned that our ability to explore the outer space environment should be matched by our ability to control the spread of terrestrial microbial contamination into that environment1. This is the discipline now called planetary protection, and has been managed since the early 1960s by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), on behalf of the United Nations. Exploration of the Solar System is subject to international treaty — the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, known in short form as the Outer Space Treaty (OST). Signatories to the OST, which include all current spacefaring nations, commit to “pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose”2. In other words, do not mess up the places you go to before you understand them; and whatever else you do, be sure that you do not bring anything back to Earth that might do damage here.

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References

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  2. Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (United Nations, 1967); https://go.nature.com/3nmltoe

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  1. SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA, USA

    J. Andy Spry

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  1. J. Andy SpryView author publications

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Correspondence toJ. Andy Spry.

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Spry, J.A. Current status and future perspectives in planetary protection.Nat Microbiol(2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-022-01060-9

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