There are laws requiring government spacecraft to be decontaminated, but are private companies under the same regulations?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

Planetary Protection was set-up in 1967 as part of an international law known as The Outer Space Treaty. This was just before we had gone to the Moon. It was set up to limit the amount of Earth organisms that go into space. If an Earth microbe were to land on another planet through one of our missions, it could cause major cross-contamination issues when collecting samples from that planet. This can cause problems with data analyses.

If something from Earth mixes with something on another planet - how can we tell the difference between us and an alien? Also, if an organism from Earth were to land in a region where there’s high chance that life can survive - there could be accidental colonization. A possible example is, there are places on Mars with the potential of harboring water. An Earth microbe landing there might accidentally spawn life. This is why we clean crafts that goes to space.

In order to prevent biological contamination amongst the planets in our solar system and beyond, an international agency known as COSPAR has set these guidelines for launching missions into space depending on where they are going. For federal space agencies, rules and guidelines are mandatory and proper cleaning is monitored.

However, private sector space agencies don’t necessarily have to follow the same rules for recent missions because there is currently little framework overseeing “non-traditional” commercial space missions. Which is why the government is trying to pass what’s known as the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act.

This video, "There are laws requiring government spacecraft to be decontaminated, but are private companies under the same regulations? ", first appeared on seeker.com.

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