Now writing on the Frontiers news site, the panel's leadership consisting of chair Dr Athena Coustenis and vice- chairs Niklas Hedman and Prof Peter Doran explain why this endeavor is so important for future deep-space explorers.
Imagine robotic rovers taking soil samples on the surface of Mars, looking for evidence of past life and instead finding bacteria that had traveled all the way from Earth: the impact on subsequent research would be incalculable. Or picture a probe digging through the crust of an icy moon such as Europa or Enceladus, and injecting organic contamination from Earth into the subsurface ocean, thus compromising any further search for life in that body.
At the same time, if extant or extinct life were to exist on such bodies, returning samples to our planet without proper measures to prevent hazards to our biosphere could lead to important risks for humanity.
An international policy is thus needed to help prevent the harmful introduction of biological and organic contamination of space missions, to make sure that future scientific exploration and discoveries do not adversely impact the new worlds they visit. Similarly, protocols should be established for returned alien material to Earth.
And because space exploration is experiencing considerable growth, with missions now operated by national space agencies, non-governmental and also private sector entities, it is increasingly important to ensure that all missions comply with this policy and that relevant requirements and guidelines are shared with all players.
A space travel rulebook
But how to draft such a policy to safeguard Earth from a potential threat and avoid compromising the search for lifeforms on other celestial bodies - backward and forward contamination? Who has the authority and expertise to analyze the latest findings and prepare guidelines that are fully adapted to the needs and objectives of future missions and to the safety of our planet? How to ensure that as many spacefaring nations as possible are onboard and can contribute to and comply with this policy? This is where the COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy comes in.
Our recent article in Frontiers, 'Planetary Protection: an international concern and responsibility' addressed the questions we put forward in this editorial.
COSPAR, created in 1958 at the behest of the International Council of Scientific Union (now called the International Science Council), has been working since the early 1960s to provide guidance on issues of contamination by extraterrestrial exploration.
Over the past decades, the organization has developed a Planetary Protection Policy as an international standard to protect against biological and organic contamination and serve as guidance in the implementation of article IX of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967. COSPAR also provides an international forum for scientific discussions on these - and other space-related - issues.
The Planetary Protection Policy has defined five categories, depending on the objective of a specific space mission. These can range from missions to orbit or carry out fly-bys of planets, comets, or icy moons, to those designed to land on these celestial bodies and perhaps carry samples back to Earth, to explore these worlds, analyze their environment or look for signs of extant or extinct life.
Associated with these categories are requirements of various degrees of rigor in the contamination control applied. The policy is assessed regularly and updated with input from new scientific findings and in conjunction with the fast-evolving space exploration sector. Because of this, COSPAR has had a close working relationship with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) since the early 1960s, particularly in the field of planetary protection.
An international affair
The COSPAR Bureau formally appoints the Panel leadership and members, currently standing at 25 members representing 12 space agencies and an equal number of experts from the scientific community, as well as ex-officio members.
By organizing workshops, topical meetings, and sessions at COSPAR scientific assemblies, the panel provides an international forum for exchanging information on best practices and for improving or updating the Policy. During its meetings, the panel welcomes scientists, industry and private sector representatives, interested parties, and observers.
The international nature of the panel allows for discussion (including encouraging an active dialogue with the private sector) and ensures a balanced and informed approach for making recommendations.
The panel's activities deal with the individual needs of a space mission while exercising swift care and expertise to ensure sustainable exploration of the solar system. When an update is made to the policy, the panel informs the international space community through publications and presentations at international meetings. The panel also welcomes community input on space research and will assist space stakeholders in any way -by co-sponsoring new studies, community surveys, workshops or focused conferences.
In short, any project that requires particular attention regarding planetary protection need look no further than the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection, a one-stop shop for information and guidance on preventing forward and backward contamination.
|Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters
Long history and bright future of space sample deliveries
SpaceX Dragon splashes down carrying 3,600 pounds of samples, experiments
SpaceX Dragon to return to Earth with experiments, samples from ISS
Virgin Galactic's use of the 'Overview Effect' to promote space tourism is a terrible irony
A space rocket hotter than the Sun
Unfavourable weather delays final Ariane 5 launch
ISRO terminates hot test for semi-cryogenic engine midway
Flight software for Artemis II meets testing checkpoint
Ingenuity phones home
Gullies on Mars could have been formed by recent periods of liquid meltwater
Up up up and finally over: Sols 3873-3875
Advanced space technology enabling 2024 ESCAPADE mission to Mars
Tianzhou 5 reconnects with Tiangong space station
China questions whether there is a new moon race afoot
Three Chinese astronauts return safely to Earth
Scientific experimental samples brought back to Earth, delivered to scientists
ESA unveils its comprehensive, high-resolution image library in a revamped platform
AST SpaceMobile and Maritime Launch Services Boost Capital with Stock Offerings
Apex raises $16M in Series A funding
AST SpaceMobile confirms 4G capabilities to everyday smartphones directly from space
iQPS initiates a full-scale study to leverage SkyCompass-1 optical data relay service
Mountain of strategic metals stranded in DR Congo begins to shift
The chore of packing just got faster and easier
China Achieves Milestone in Satellite-to-ground Laser Communications
Preventing interplanetary pollution that could pose a threat to life on Earth and other planets
A surprise chemical find by ALMA may help detect and confirm protoplanets
Reconstructing alien astronomers' view of our home galaxy's chemistry
New era of exoplanet discovery begins with images of 'Jupiter's Younger Sibling'
Unveiling Jupiter's upper atmosphere
ASU study: Jupiter's moon Europa may have had a slow evolution
Juno captures lightning bolts above Jupiter's north pole
Colorful Kuiper Belt puzzle solved by UH researchers
|Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters