Send to

Choose Destination
Adv Space Res. 2005;35(9):1648-53.

Estimation and assessment of Mars contamination.

Author information

Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, Toulouse, France.


Since the beginning of the exploration of Mars, more than fourty years ago, thirty-six missions have been launched, including fifty-nine different space systems such as fly-by spacecraft, orbiters, cruise modules, landing or penetrating systems. Taking into account failures at launch, about three missions out of four have been successfully sent toward the Red Planet. The fact today is that Mars orbital environment includes orbiters and perhaps debris, and that its atmosphere and its surface include terrestrial compounds and dormant microorganisms. Coming from the UN Outer Space Treaty [United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the "Outer Space Treaty") referenced 610 UNTS 205 - resolution 2222(XXI) of December 1966] and according to the COSPAR planetary protection policy recommendations [COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy (20 October 2002), accepted by the Council and Bureau, as moved for adoption by SC F and PPP, prepared by the COSPAR/IAU Workshop on Planetary Protection, 4/02 with updates 10/0, 2002], Mars environment has to be preserved so as not to jeopardize the scientific investigations, and the level of terrestrial material brought on and around Mars theoretically has to comply with this policy. It is useful to evaluate what and how many materials, compounds and microorganisms are on Mars, to list what is in orbit and to identify where all these items are. Considering assumptions about materials, spores and gas location and dispersion on Mars, average contamination levels can be estimated. It is clear now that as long as missions are sent to other extraterrestrial bodies, it is not possible to keep them perfectly clean. Mars is one of the most concerned body, and the large number of missions achieved, on-going and planned now raise the question about its possible contamination, not necessarily from a biological point of view, but with respect to all types of contamination. Answering this question, will help to assess the potential effects of such contamination on scientific results and will address concerns relative to any ethical considerations about the contamination of other planets.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center