NASA issues new guidelines to protect the Moon and Mars from Earth's germs

Picture of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon taken by Neil ArmstrongNASA

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) has put out new guidelines to keep the Moon and Mars from getting infected with germs from Earth.
  • The permanently shadowed region of the Moon, in particular, has been designated a ‘sensitive location’.
  • The International Space Station (ISS) will continue to be a testbed to prepare for human missions to Mars.
The National Aeronautics and Space Agency ( NASA) has issued new guidelines to protect the Moon and Mars from ‘terrestrial contamination’ as the number of missions is set to increase in the near future.

Protecting the far side of the Moon
The far side of the moon, or the ‘permanently shadowed regions’ have been designated ‘sensitive locations’. According to observations made by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), they lie between the latitudes of 79 degrees north and 86 degrees north.

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the MoonNASA

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NASA asserts that these areas “of significant interest relative to the process of chemical evolution,” which is why the reporting of biological materials is warranted.

"We are enabling our important goal of sustainable exploration of the Moon while simultaneously safeguarding future science in the permanently shadowed regions," said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

How NASA plans to protect the Moon from Earth's germs
Anyone or anything going to Moon is now required to provide an inventory of biological materials — living and dead — included in spacecraft hardware and payloads.

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Crewed missions, like the Artemis mission scheduled for 2024, will have to provide a list of the amount and disposition of biological materials — including waste — that will remain in the lunar environment.

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the MoonNASA

Parts of the Moon that don’t need safeguards
Other areas of the moon are “Not of direct interest for understanding the process of chemical evolution,” said NASA adding that exploring these wouldn’t be jeopardised by ‘terrestrial contamination’.

“No protection of such regions is warranted,” it added. However, when it comes to the Apollo landing site and other lunar historic sites — they are to be protected.
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Protecting Mars
The International Space Sation (ISS) will be used as testbed to prepare for human missions to Mars. But for now, there aren’t any permanent guidelines in place. “NASA will develop risk-informed decision making implementation strategies for human missions to Mars, which account for and balance the needs of human space exploration, science, commercial activities, ad safety,” said the space agency in its directive.

Illustration of astronauts on the MarsNASA

How NASA plans to protect Mars from Earth's germs
  • Develop capabilities to monitor biological processes associated with the human presence in space exploration and to evaluate changes over time
  • Work on technologies for mitigating contamination release or intrusion, potentially including closed-loop systems; cleaning/re-cleaning capabilities; quarantine, support systems, and biological waste disposal that minimize impact of humans on the environment of Mars
  • Create an understanding of environmental processes on Mars that would contribute to transport and sterilization of terrestrial organisms released by human activity.
NASA highlighted that if there are gaps between what knowledge they have now and what may be needed in the future, it will undertake a program of activities to bridge that gap.

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