The International Committee Against Mars Sample Return
The purpose of
is to increase public awareness of the Mars Sample Return along with
any possible negative consequences that could occur due to the MSR
canister(s) either becoming opened unintentionally on impact, or lost
during entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Engineering reports regarding
the structural integrity of these sample return vehicles in drop tests
from aircraft will try to be obtained and published on the ICAMSR Home Page.
The ICAMSR will gather the signatures of concerned
scientists, environmental groups, and individuals who oppose the Passive
Earth-Entry capsule design who feel that it is a risky approach to examining
potentially biologically active solar system samples (until proven otherwise)
within the fragile biosphere and ecosystems of the Earth.
It should be noted that the ICAMSR is opposed only to current
Planetary/Cometary Sample Return mission scenarios involving direct return to
Earth. However, the ICAMSR fully supports the analysis of returned solar system
samples aboard the International Space Station, provided it is equipped with a
suitable CDC-like biohazard containment module. The ICAMSR therefore officially
adopts NASA's 1981 study
"The Antaeus Report"2
as the basis for the safe examination of suspected biologically active solar
system samples within the vicinity of the Earth. Having planetary/cometary
samples certified as "biosphere safe"
in space or in-situ before they are transferred to the Earth’s surface is
our main goal and intention. The ICAMSR will not attempt to stop or impede
the progress of the robotic search for life in the solar system. This
includes both in-situ life sciences experiments, and planetary sample
return missions examined in Earth orbit.
It should be mentioned that transfer of the sample return
canisters to the Space Shuttle cargo-bay for Earth return has been suggested
as an alternative to having the such canisters crash-land on Earth.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that a serious problem could in effect cause
the Space Shuttle to crash or explode with the possible biohazardous samples
aboard, this method is not supported by ICAMSR.
A Possible MSR Danger
On Earth, we know that dust carries bacteria, lots of it.
NASA is aware of this fact whenever they put space probe hardware together in
their dust limited vehicle assembly buildings at KSC. This is to limit
terrestrial contamination of Mars and other solar system bodies.
Mars is a very dusty planet. No doubt, when the MSR ascent
vehicle and sample return capsule leave the surface of Mars, dust will probably
be adhering to the exterior surfaces of these spacecraft. Ferric oxide is one
of the suspected components of Martian dust and a Martian organism imbedded in
such a dust particle could be shielded from ultraviolet light and survive the
journey back to Earth in a lyophilized (freeze dried)
Once free in Earth’s biosphere, the dust/bacteria clumps could be transported
about the planet.
It has been argued that the tremendous heating of the exterior
of the Passive Earth-Entry sample return canister during atmospheric reentry
would completely sterilize the outer surfaces. However, any rough surface areas
such as screw holes, dents, or other such microbial hiding places, might offer
limited protection for a fleck of Martian dust with an organism attached. All
things must be considered.
According to Dr. Carl Sagan, "one terrestrial microorganism
reproducing as slowly as once a month on Mars, without other ecological limitations,
in less than a decade would result in a microbial population of the Martian soil
comparable to Earth"4.
What if the reverse is true of a single Martian microorganism that could reproduce
on the Earth?
Because of the unknown nature of any toxins or pathogenic
viruses/bacteria which Martian soil could contain, absolute certainty regarding
the protection of Earth’s fragile biosphere must be enforced by demanding that
all solar system samples be examined in space before being committed to the
biosphere of the Earth.5
Who Belongs to the ICAMSR?
All individuals, scientists, and environmental groups who request in
writing that their names be added to the growing ICAMSR list and who sign and return the
ICAMSR petition will automatically become members. There are no membership fees or dues.
Planetary Protection involves every living person on our planet, and therefore everyone
should have an opportunity to voice their concerns regardless of their financial situation.
The list of ICAMSR members worldwide will then be used as a protest to have NASA and other
space-faring nations to change their approach to planetary sample return missions.
Although the likelihood of biohazard with the Stardust mission is assumed
to be less threatening by NASA scientists than a Mars Sample Return – the ICAMSR still
intends to report on all aspects of this mission. The recent finding of organic material
in Comet Wild-2 by the Stardust spacecraft should alert scientists to the research of Hoyle
The ultimate goal of the ICAMSR will be to lobby Congress, the United
Nations, and environmental groups that solar system sample missions using the Passive
Earth-Entry concept be cancelled. ICAMSR will only support planetary/cometary life
sciences missions that obtain in-situ information before materials are transferred to
the vicinity of the Earth.
Direct all correspondence to:
Barry DiGregorio, Director for ICAMSR
16 N. Hartland Street
Middleport, New York 14105
United States of America (USA)
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org>
Phone at (716) 735-7096
The ICAMSR Charter and Scope of Activities
The ICAMSR will urge the United Nations and its constituent
member states to address the enormous potential biohazard of a Mars Sample Return
mission along with other planetary/cometary sample missions to Earth’s life and
The ICAMSR will ask NASA and the world scientific community to
reopen the case of the Viking Biology and GCMS tests carried out on the surface of Mars
in 1976. Because of recent advances in the study of life in extreme environments on Earth
and the realization that the Viking GCMS Organic Analysis experiment was not sensitive
enough to eliminate the possibility of life on Mars, we will ask that all scientific
avenues to this issue be exploited thoroughly. ICAMSR will seek to have appointed an
objective international panel of experts to review the existing data bearing on
extraterrestrial life, with particular emphasis on the findings in the meteorites from
Mars and Viking mission life detection experiments, and then commission it to report on
the probability of life on Mars. Furthermore:
- This appointed independent international review panel will
perform a benefit/risk study for a direct return Mars sample based on that
- Determine what level of risk the direct return sample to
Earth should be proscribed.
- Review studies proposing remote examination of Mars samples
prior to return to Earth.
- Develop and adopt an International Mars Sample/Planetary
Return program, requiring adherence by all space-faring nations.
The ICAMSR will lobby Congress, the United Nations, organized
environmental groups, scientists, and concerned individuals and demand that NASA and all
other space-faring nations cancel or implement changes to current solar system
sample return missions designed to enter directly into Earth’s biosphere/atmosphere.
Solar System objects which might contain biohazardous organisms include: Planets, Moons,
Comets, and Asteroids.
The ICAMSR will ask the United Nations, COSPAR, and other space
policy implementation groups to encourage an environmental protection policy act to
protect the environment of Mars from further contamination by improperly sterilized
spacecraft. Because of its ancient preserved pristine environment, Mars may hold the
key to understanding the early origin of life on Earth and possibly the universe.
Therefore ICAMSR recommends that NASA and other space-faring nations re-adopt the
Viking Class Sterilization Protocol for all spacecraft lander missions, whether or not
they have life detection instruments.
ICAMSR will distribute news and information on the progress
being made in the field of astrobiology and planetary science missions with
a special emphasis on forward and back contamination with inbound and outbound
planetary spacecraft missions.
The ICAMSR will advocate the human exploration of solar system
bodies only after they have been proven to be safe, from a biological and toxic standpoint,
and only after any indigenous life forms have been studied thoroughly. This policy supports
robotic missions first, human missions later. However, the ICAMSR would support the concept
of a Manned Mars Orbiting Laboratory (MMOL) designed to analyze robotically returned Martian
soil samples in Martian orbit. This concept would serve to put a human presence around Mars
during the time period it would take to study indigenous life-forms without contaminating
the environment of Mars with human waste or microbes. Furthermore, the Manned Mars Orbiting
Laboratory concept could be used as a launching platform to the outer solar system bodies
for both manned and unmanned missions.