NASA

'Space law' helps prevent earth's microbes from polluting other planets


If we aren’t careful, we could be spreading all sorts of life – like in 2019, when a spacecraft crashed onto the moon’s surface with a cargo of tiny, almost indestructible lifeforms called tardigrades.


In fact, there’s an entire section of space law, called planetary protection, designed to prevent planets, moons, comets, and asteroids from being contaminated.


The committee on space research (COSPAR), an international non-governmental organization, began discussing it as early as the 1950s, when planned missions to the moon raised concerns about the potential for contamination to effect later scientific investigations.


It’s what lawyers refer to as “soft law.” This means it doesn’t have the force of a legally binding agreement but is still recognized as an important guideline that should be followed.


Recently, NASA updated its planetary protection policy to explicitly stipulate it is the implementation of the US’ obligations under the Outer Space Treaty.


Attempts in the US Congress to potentially exempt private actors from planetary protection requirements have already happened , as part of a bill in 2018 to reduce the “regulatory burden” on the commercial space industry.






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