Science & Nature

Modernizing Planetary Protection: Less Restrictive “Bioburden” Rules Would Make Mars Missions Simpler

Mars' Interior Structure

Animation displaying an artist’s rendition of Mars’ inside construction. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A brand new report that might make it less complicated to ship spacecraft to some areas of “>Mars whereas nonetheless defending the planet from Earth-based contamination was introduced in the present day at a press convention on the 53rd annual assembly of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Amanda Hendrix.

The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identifies standards that might enable robotic missions to sure areas on Mars to be carried out with much less restrictive “bioburden” necessities, that are designed to stop dangerous contamination by Earth-based microbes at Mars.

“The Committee on Planetary Protection, a standing committee of the National Academies Space Studies Board, was tasked by “>NASA to jot down a report discussing standards that could possibly be used to designate areas on Mars the place missions can land with much less stringent bioburden necessities than at present in place. Currently, assembly planetary safety necessities – as an example, utilizing rigorous sterilization strategies – could be seen as imposing, pricey and sophisticated, and it could possibly be that these restrictions could be simplified and modernized, in some circumstances, which can assist make some areas of Mars extra accessible,” mentioned Hendrix, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.

“The report suggests strategies for modernizing and offering flexibility in planetary safety implementation. One method to do that is by using a threat administration method, that could possibly be tailor-made to particular person missions’ wants,” Hendrix mentioned. “The Committee’s findings can result in making parts of Mars extra accessible to each industrial and authorities endeavors by enjoyable planetary safety necessities whereas remaining cautious about entry to potential liveable zones.”

Mars Ice Map

This map of Mars reveals areas the place ice is probably situated inside 1 meter of the floor, primarily based on neutron spectroscopy information (Mars Odyssey) or thermal infrared (IR) spectra (Mars Climate Sounder), and consists of recognized subsurface entry factors from the Mars Candidate Cave Catalog. The grey areas are these missing IR information and yielding water equal hydrogen (WEH) contents lower than 10% from neutron spectroscopy. In the grey areas, closed-system ice or brine might probably be current within the high 1 meter, however it’s prone to be low in abundance and patchy in distribution. Gray areas could also be acceptable for missions planning subsurface actions (as deep as 1 meter) with decreased bioburden necessities, if touchdown websites are a conservative buffer distance from subsurface entry factors. Credit: A. Deanne Rogers, Stony Brook University, The State University of New York

In this report, the Committee targeted on areas on Mars which may not be negatively impacted if visited by spacecraft that aren’t stringently sterilized. For missions that don’t entry the subsurface, such areas might embody a good portion of the floor of Mars, as a result of the UV atmosphere is so biocidal that terrestrial organisms are, typically, not prone to survive multiple to 2 sols, or Martian days. For missions that entry the subsurface (all the way down to 1 meter), areas on Mars anticipated to have patchy or no water ice beneath the floor may also be visited by spacecraft extra relaxed bioburden necessities, as a result of such patchy ice is probably going not conducive to the proliferation of terrestrial microorganisms.

The report finds that it’s crucial that any mission despatched to Mars with decreased bioburden necessities stay some conservative distance from any subsurface entry factors, resembling cave openings. Furthermore, although much less stringent than present necessities, these missions with relaxed bioburden necessities would nonetheless want some stage of cleanliness, which could possibly be achieved as an example utilizing commonplace aerospace cleanliness practices.

“The complete objective of planetary safety protocols is to reduce the chance of dangerous contamination; this implies minimizing the chance of introduction of terrestrial organic materials that might confound future life detection experiments. This is basically vital within the case of Mars,” Hendrix mentioned. “At Mars we all know that the floor is nearly definitely uninhabitable for terrestrial microorganisms, as a result of harsh UV atmosphere; nevertheless, subsurface areas resembling caves, shielded from radiation, could possibly be liveable zones, for terrestrial and/or indigenous Martian life.

“The report will assist in the seek for life on Mars by figuring out these areas on its floor for which planetary safety requirements for spacecraft have to be most restrictive,” Hendrix mentioned. “Also, by probably easing planetary safety burdens within the exploration of different areas, NASA might allow extra missions to Mars that assist us perceive the planet and its atmosphere, even when these missions will not be pursuing astrobiological research.”

The committee’s findings apply particularly to missions for which NASA has duty for planetary safety. For industrial missions wherein NASA has no position or connection, the U.S. authorities nonetheless must designate a regulatory company to authorize and frequently supervise area actions in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty, the report says. The research was funded by NASA.

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