NASA must rework planetary protection plans, panel advises (3 minute read)
NASA's rules for preventing the spread of earthly microbes, as well as the spread of alien life on Earth, require rethinking, according to an independent agency advisory panel. Current rules are costly and some procedures do not make sense, considering the scientific knowledge we have gained since the rules were created. The Moon is classified as potentially of interest for research on the origins of life, but few scientists now see it as an important site for studying these questions, except for at its poles. Reclassifying the Moon as nonessential for biological studies would simplify exploration for space agencies. Mars has been treated as if microbes could survive on the planet, but many scientists now think that it is unlikely. Earth has been bombarded by meteorites that originated from Mars with no known biological harm in the past, so its guidelines for returning samples should be reviewed. NASA is not a regulatory agency, and commercial actors, for example, Tesla, have launched objects into space with no planetary protection evaluation in the past. Humans will eventually contaminate Mars, so research into water-rich regions should be explored as soon as possible.