Researchers have published a discussion of the issues surrounding forward contamination of ocean worlds for future space missions. When sending robotic explorers to destinations of astrobiological importance in the Solar System, contamination is a key issue. Missions are required to follow stringent guidelines to prevent Earth organisms from contaminating the potential habitats they are designed to explore. Planetary protection requirements are a major driver in the complexity and cost of space missions. The paper reviews the history of planetary protection with a focus on the exploration of ocean worlds, and identifies potential weaknesses in current requirements, areas that could benefit from further discussion within the astrobiology community, and lessons that could be learned from other fields.

The paper, “Forward contamination of ocean worlds: A stakeholder conversation” was published in the journal Space Policy. For more information on Planetary Protection at NASA, visit: Information on programs and research areas supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program can be found at: