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NASA implements changes to planetary protection policies for moon and Mars missions – SpaceNews

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WASHINGTON — NASA introduced July 9 two new directives relating to planetary safety for missions to the moon and Mars that implement suggestions of an unbiased review board final yr.

The two directives, introduced by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine throughout a “Moon Dialogs” webinar, are a part of an effort by NASA to modernize tips which might be many years previous and which the company believes might hinder its long-term human exploration plans.

The directives replicate “how NASA has evolved on its thinking as it relates to forward and backward harmful biological contamination on the surface of the moon and, of course, on Mars,” Bridenstine mentioned.

The first of what are formally often known as NASA Interim Directives revises planetary protection classification of the moon. Mission to the moon had been in Category 2, which required missions to doc any organic supplies on board however set no cleanliness requirements on them. That classification was pushed by issues spacecraft might contaminate water ice on the lunar poles.

Under the brand new directive, many of the moon will likely be positioned in Category 1, which imposes no necessities on missions. The exceptions would be the polar areas — north of 86 levels north latitude and south of 79 levels south latitude — which can stay in Category 2. Regions round Apollo touchdown “and other historic sites” can even be in Category 2, primarily to guard organic supplies left behind by the crewed Apollo landings.

“NASA is changing its thinking on how we’re going to go forward to the moon,” Bridenstine mentioned. “Certain parts of the moon, from a scientific perspective, need to be protected more than other parts of the moon from forward biological contamination.”

The second directive addresses future human missions to Mars, a planet with a lot higher planetary safety necessities. Those necessities embody setting strict limits on the extent of terrestrial contamination that many have argued are incompatible with human missions.

“We can’t go to Mars with humans if the principle that we’re living by is that we can’t have any microbial substances with us, because that’s just not possible,” Bridenstine mentioned.

The Mars directive doesn’t change the planetary safety necessities for missions to that planet, however as an alternative requires research for a way to take action. Those research vary from analysis that may be finished on the International Space Station to doubtlessly sending a precursor robotic mission to a location close to the proposed touchdown web site for the crewed mission to measure what natural supplies are current.

“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, and safety,” the directive states.

That effort, Bridenstine mentioned, could be a long-term course of that can require more modifications to insurance policies sooner or later. “As we learn more, we’re going to have to continue making adjustments,” he mentioned.

The two directives implement a number of the suggestions of the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, which released a report last October calling for modernization of planetary protection protocols. Among its suggestions was reclassifying a lot of the moon from Category 2 to Category 1, in addition to for NASA to develop planetary safety tips for future Mars missions.

“Planetary protection has not really had a look under the hood in a bottoms-up assessment in something like 40 years,” Alan Stern, the planetary scientist who chaired that unbiased review, mentioned in a panel dialogue after Bridenstine’s remarks. “So much has changed in that time in so many areas.”

The NASA directives apply to the company’s personal missions in addition to these by which the company participates in a roundabout way, equivalent to joint missions with different businesses or business missions the place NASA is a buyer. It doesn’t apply, although, to missions by different house businesses or strictly business missions.

“There are NASA’s interim directives, but what NASA does has a tremendous influence on the private sector,” argued Mike Gold, appearing affiliate administrator for worldwide and interagency relations at NASA, in the course of the panel dialogue. “We have to establish the right precedent. The [directives] we put forward today will demonstrate a path for the private sector.”

The directives additionally don’t have an effect on worldwide planetary safety tips maintained by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). However, when the unbiased review board’s report was launched final fall, individuals equivalent to Len Fisk, president of COSPAR, mentioned they anticipated the beneficial modifications to in the end be accepted by COSPAR.

One house legislation knowledgeable mentioned that strategy ought to be adequate. “It is an evolving process,” mentioned Tanja Masson-Zwaan, deputy director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University. Countries have been voluntarily implementing these tips for many years, she famous, as a way of adhering to the Outer Space Treaty’s requirement to keep away from “harmful contamination” of celestial our bodies.

She rejected within the panel dialogue the concept of a brand new worldwide group to supervise planetary safety. “In pragmatic terms, this is not something that will happen, but I also do not think it is necessary.”

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