Planetary Protection Considerations of Mars Dust in the Context of Current Human Exploration Concepts



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47th International Conference on Environmental Systems


One of the features of the Apollo missions was the pervasiveness of the lunar regolith on the spacecraft systems exposed to the lunar environment, including the astronaut’s suits, and on the astronauts themselves. So much so, that the expectation is that for martian exploration, it will be impractical for astronauts to be fully isolated from the martian dust environment for the entirety of their time on the red planet. At least not at the level of the 1x10e-6 probability of exposure that is the current planetary protection requirement for avoidance of release into the terrestrial environment of martian material from a robotic sample return mission. In addition, all human exploration systems are leaky, or at least, carry the threat of leakage of terrestrial material as a result of nominal (e.g. airlock) and non-nominal operational conditions. So, given that some (tbd) level of material exchange will occur, what are the ramifications for a human exploration mission, as envisaged in NASA’s “Journey to Mars”? This paper will consider first, the issues and mitigations from a planetary protection perspective, considering release of terrestrial material at Mars (“forward” contamination); it’s fate based on physico-chemical properties of the martian environment; near- and far-field dispersion, and; its impact on zoning models for managing exploration and on surface regions on Mars (so-called Special Regions) that may be habitable for terrestrial hitchhikers on such materials. Second, the issues and mitigations around the ingress of/exposure to martian dust (“back” contamination) are considered, in particular those related to astronaut health and the return to Earth. The discussions in this paper will also reflect a subset of the findings of the 2016 COSPAR workshop on Refining Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Missions.


J Andy Spry, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI), USA
Angela Zalucha, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI), USA
Lori Fenton, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI), USA
ICES510: Planetary and Spacecraft Dust Properties and Mitigation Technologies
The 47th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in South Carolina, USA on 16 July 2017 through 20 July 2017.


Mars, Planetary Protection, Dust, Journey to Mars, contamination