Planetary protection - A microbial ethics approach

CS Cockell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Planetary protection policies designed to reduce the cross-transfer of life on spacecraft from one planet to another can either be formulated from the pragmatic instrumental needs of scientific exploration, or from ethical principles. I address planetary protection concerns by starting from a normative ethical framework for the treatment of microorganisms. This argues that they have intrinsic value at the level of the individual through to the level of the community, but at the individual level this ethic can only be theoretical. This approach yields a solution to the problem of the inevitable contamination of Mars by human explorers and suggests that in some instances the local contamination of other planets may be acceptable. An exception would be where this contamination would cause destruction of microbial ecosystems. Within the framework of such an ethic, the term 'planetary protection' may be normatively too narrow and 'planetary preservation' may better describe the activity of controlling cross-inoculation of planets. I discuss an example of a contamination event that might be ethically acceptable within the framework of 'preservation', but would be regarded as unacceptable under current planetary 'protection' guidelines. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-292
Number of pages6
JournalSpace policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • MARS


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