Sci & Tech

Much less Restrictive “Bioburden” Guidelines Would Make Mars Missions Easier

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

A brand new report that might make it easier to ship spacecraft to some areas of Mars whereas nonetheless defending the planet from Earth-based contamination was offered at present 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 places 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 write a report discussing criteria that could be used to designate regions on Mars where missions can land with less stringent bioburden requirements than currently in place. Currently, meeting planetary protection requirements – for instance, using rigorous sterilization techniques – can be seen as imposing, costly and complex, and it could be that these restrictions can be simplified and modernized, in some cases, which can help make some areas of Mars more accessible,” stated Hendrix, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.

“The report suggests techniques for modernizing and providing flexibility in planetary protection implementation. One way to do this is by utilizing a risk management approach, that could be tailored to individual missions’ needs,” Hendrix stated. “The Committee’s findings can lead to making portions of Mars more accessible to both commercial and government endeavors by relaxing planetary protection requirements while remaining careful about access to potential habitable zones.”

Mars Ice Map

This map of Mars reveals places the place ice is doubtlessly situated inside 1 meter of the floor, based mostly on neutron spectroscopy information (Mars Odyssey) or thermal infrared (IR) spectra (Mars Climate Sounder), and contains identified 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 doubtlessly be current within the prime 1 meter, however it’s more likely to be low in abundance and patchy in distribution. Gray areas could also be applicable for missions planning subsurface actions (as deep as 1 meter) with diminished 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 centered on areas on Mars that 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 surroundings is so biocidal that terrestrial organisms are, typically, not more likely to survive a couple of 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 under 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 diminished bioburden necessities stay some conservative distance from any subsurface entry factors, comparable to cave openings. Furthermore, although much less stringent than present necessities, these missions with relaxed bioburden necessities would nonetheless want some degree of cleanliness, which may very well be achieved for example utilizing normal aerospace cleanliness practices.

“The whole purpose of planetary protection protocols is to minimize the risk of harmful contamination; this means minimizing the risk of introduction of terrestrial biological material that could confound future life detection experiments. This is really important in the case of Mars,” Hendrix stated. “At Mars we all know that the floor is sort of definitely uninhabitable for terrestrial microorganisms, because of the harsh UV surroundings; nevertheless, subsurface areas comparable to caves, shielded from radiation, may very well be liveable zones, for terrestrial and/or indigenous Martian life.

“The report will help in the search for life on Mars by identifying those areas on its surface for which planetary protection standards for spacecraft must be most restrictive,” Hendrix stated. “Also, by potentially easing planetary protection burdens in the exploration of other areas, NASA could enable more missions to Mars that help us understand the planet and its environment, even if these missions are not pursuing astrobiological studies.”

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

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