The remote operation of an asset with time-delays short enough to allow for ‘real-time’ or near real-time control – often referred to as low-latency teleoperations (LLT) – has important potential to address planetary protection concerns and to enhance astrobiology exploration. Not only can LLT assist with the search for extraterrestrial life and help mitigate planetary protection concerns as required by international treaty, but it can also aid in the real-time exploration of hazardous areas, robotically manipulate samples in real-time, and engage in precise measurements and experiments without the presence of crew in the immediate area. Furthermore, LLT can be particularly effective for studying ‘Special Regions’ – areas of astrobiological interest that might be adversely affected by forward contamination from humans or spacecraft contaminants during activities on Mars. LLT can also aid human exploration by addressing concerns about backward contamination that could impact mission details for returning Martian samples and crew back to Earth.This paper provides an overview of LLT operational considerations and findings from recent NASA analyses and workshops related to planetary protection and human missions beyond Earth orbit. The paper focuses primarily on three interrelated areas of Mars operations that are particularly relevant to the planetary protection and the search for life: Mars orbit-to-surface LLT activities; Crew-on-surface and drilling LLT; and Mars surface science laboratory LLT. The paper also discusses several additional mission implementation considerations and closes with information on key knowledge gaps identified as necessary for the advance of LLT for planetary protection and astrobiology purposes on future human missions to Mars.
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