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Biological safety in the context of backward planetary protection and Mars Sample Return: conclusions from the Sterilization Working Group

Published In: Cambridge University Press

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are studying how samples might be brought back to Earth from Mars safely. Backward planetary protection is key in this complex endeavour, as it is required to prevent potential adverse effects from returning materials to Earth’s biosphere. As the question of whether or not life exists on Mars today or whether it ever did in the past is still unanswered, the effort to return samples from Mars is expected to be categorized as a ‘Restricted Earth Return’ mission, for which NASA policy requires the containment of any unsterilized material returned to Earth.


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