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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009

14 - Contamination of spacecraft and planets


The transfer of material that is not native to a planet has been happening over the history of the Solar System, with meteorite delivery being a common example of this interchange. With the development of rocket launchers capable of injecting objects into interplanetary trajectories, mankind joined Nature in being able to alter another planet's composition. Generally spacecraft and their associated hardware are designed and assembled so as to minimize the amount of debris that they carry. This chapter examines the problems associated with the unintentional delivery of living or dead organic matter to celestial bodies; so-called ‘forward contamination’. The topic is often referred to by the phrase planetary protection, and its scope includes not only the possible contamination of planetary bodies, but also the potential introduction to the Earth of materal from a non-terrestrial biosphere. Furthermore, the threat that planetary protection seeks to minimize is not restricted to the introduction of non-native organisms to another planetary body. Non-living material, such as DNA fragments and other complex bio-relevant molecules might trigger false-positives from equipment designed to detect extant or extinct life.

A practical definition of a living entity might be that the agent processes matter and energy in such a way that it can reproduce, and in doing so prosper in the face of environmental stresses. If the environment of the organism changes too radically then the organism may be killed or rendered dormant.

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Planetary Landers and Entry Probes
  • Online ISBN: 9780511536052
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