Author Topic: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth  (Read 789 times)

Offline Slarty1080

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I’m interested in what people think will be necessary concerning planetary protection measures for Human missions to the Red planet. I would assume that there would be no repeat of the Apollo Moon walker episodes where a lot of Moon dust got into the LEM cabin.

I assume they would use suitports: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_suit#Suitport_for_Mars, but beyond that gloveboxes for handling samples in a lab area? What else? No exchange of materials that have come in contact with the crew being exposed to the Martian environment?

Then there’s the issue of the returning Starship and isolation. Is it likely that the astronauts and samples would be transferred to a dragon capsule for return to Earth?

Finally what is the current legislative requirement in the USA?


The first words spoken on Mars: "Humans have been wondering if there was any life on the planet Mars for many decades … well ... there is now!"

Offline yoram

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #1 on: 12/26/2018 08:26 pm »
I’m interested in what people think will be necessary concerning planetary protection measures for Human missions to the Red planet. I would assume that there would be no repeat of the Apollo Moon walker episodes where a lot of Moon dust got into the LEM cabin.

I assume they would use suitports: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_suit#Suitport_for_Mars, but beyond that gloveboxes for handling samples in a lab area? What else? No exchange of materials that have come in contact with the crew being exposed to the Martian environment?

Then there’s the issue of the returning Starship and isolation. Is it likely that the astronauts and samples would be transferred to a dragon capsule for return to Earth?

Finally what is the current legislative requirement in the USA?

Planetary protection is fairly pointless and likely impractical with human landings. There's no way to sterilize everything, and most things will be at some point touched by humans.

Mars is big and fairly inhospitable, so they will need to rely on Earth life not spreading too far from the landing site.

It makes sense if you want to protect specific experiments that look for life from contamination, but those can use special localized sterilization protocols.

As for legislative requirements, I assume there will be the necessary changes to make a human mission possible. It's hard to imagine a real mission to Mars would be stopped because of something like this.

Offline MickQ

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #2 on: 12/26/2018 09:29 pm »
Find a suitable location, say in a 5 klm diam crater, and establish it as the Human Reservation.
All interplanetary traffic goes to / from this point.  All exploration missions radiate from this point.
Much easier to control contamination issues at one site only.

Offline RonM

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #3 on: 12/26/2018 09:41 pm »
Re: Mars > Earth

The trip back from Mars would be plenty of isolation time for the crew. That time in space and the heat during reentry would be sufficient for the exterior of the Starship.

Samples can be properly packaged to prevent contamination.

Biggest problem would be what to do about internal contamination. If the crew is okay after months of contact during the flight back, then it's safe. Still probably need cleaning procedures during refurbishment similar to handling toxic materials to be safe.

Overall, it's highly unlikely that any bacteria, spores, or virus could survive on the surface of Mars. Too much UV exposure. So the exterior of Starship and dust tracked inside should be okay.

Samples collected from under rocks and below ground are a different story and should be handled with care.

Offline Slarty1080

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #4 on: 12/27/2018 10:03 am »
On a related issue after a year spent on Mars the atmosphere in the Starship probably won't be that healthy when they first get to orbit as the collected detritus that has fallen to the floor will suddenly be free to float about. Guess they will have to vacuum / clean the surfaces inside.

If they use suitlocks and glove boxes I would assume that only the airlock area where the suits are stored would be contaminated with Martian material to any significant extent.
The first words spoken on Mars: "Humans have been wondering if there was any life on the planet Mars for many decades … well ... there is now!"

Offline RonM

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #5 on: 12/27/2018 04:32 pm »
One NASA idea for a habitat was to have a large airlock with suit ports and a hatch. Under normal operations with the suit ports no dust would get inside the airlock or habitat. The hatch could be used in an emergency, such as problems with the suit port. Then only the airlock is contaminated. Easier to clean.

That design could work for the crew area of Starship, but the cargo section would still be exposed.

Online DigitalMan

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #6 on: 12/30/2018 04:09 am »
Thats an interesting idea.  By using suit ports you might also be making it easier to access the unpressurized section of a spacecraft, or to do a spacewalk.

It seems to me that the unpressurized section could be easier to clean than the pressurized section, don't you think?  There is likely to be more obstacles in the pressurized section.

Offline Slarty1080

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #7 on: 12/30/2018 10:06 am »
Thats an interesting idea.  By using suit ports you might also be making it easier to access the unpressurized section of a spacecraft, or to do a spacewalk.

It seems to me that the unpressurized section could be easier to clean than the pressurized section, don't you think?  There is likely to be more obstacles in the pressurized section.
I think that both the large unpressurized cargo deck and the smaller pressuisable suitlock area would be on different deck levels. Both would probably have plenty of obstacles. I'm curious what method they would use to decontaminate these? Perhaps something involving electrostatic charge that would attract dust?

Then there's the question of the layout of the cargo area, suitlock area, suit storage, airlocks and what access they would have where at what point. This might be significant for decontamination purposes.

Initially I was thinking the main cargo bay would be un pressurized and would have a single large 4m door with some sort of extendable gantry crane providing access to the surface for cargo. The deck immediately above that there might be half "lab" and half transfer area with suitlocks, suit store, decontamination equipment spares as well as an air lock.

Not sure if they would want or would need access to the unpressurized deck when on inbound or outbound parts of the mission? Perhaps it might be useful for ongoing decontamination purposes on the way back?

That leaves the question of connectivity to the outside. The crew airlock could exit into the cargo bay which would allow the crew to use the cargo crane to access the surface and the 4m cargo door would be the only point of entry or exit from thr ship at least on Mars.

Alternatively the crew airlock could exit directly to the outside providing a second point of entry/exit to the ship, but would require a separate lift to the surface assuming the suit room is above the cargo bay.
The first words spoken on Mars: "Humans have been wondering if there was any life on the planet Mars for many decades … well ... there is now!"

Offline sghill

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #8 on: 12/30/2018 02:28 pm »
IMHO, planetary protection goes out the window with Starship. It is reusable and filled with humans. Sterilizing it and keeping it sterilized for repeated outbound and inbound trips will be impractical to the point of impossible.

I, for one, don't really care about protection issues for potential Martian bugs. We either want to go to Mars, or we don't. Planetary protection is decided by that binary choice. I want to see us go to Mars- hence my opinion.

So, the challenge, IMHO, is not technical; it is political. Once SpaceX changes a few minds in Congress (if any need changing), NASA gets a new directive and Starship gets to visit Mars.

And in the interest of disclosure, the company I own makes cold plasma chemical remediation equipment capable of reducing perchlorate. We have explored a "dishwasher" system of various sizes for removing perchlorates contained in dirt from suits, equipment,  vehicles, and even soil that colonists may want to bring inside.
« Last Edit: 12/30/2018 03:02 pm by sghill »
Bring the thunder!

Offline DasBlinkenlight

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #9 on: 12/30/2018 02:43 pm »
With effort, Starship might be able to maintain level II-III planetary protection.   Expectations of level IV or V are unrealistic.
With risk of reverse contamination/ airborne perchlorates, I suspect that there will be decontamination chambers adjacent to airlocks, (or intergral to them) with air suction/filtration, compressed air blowers, UV decon lights, and possibly even a wet wand decon system with collection pool that gets re-processed and filtered.   Not heavy or difficult, just a little more mass that has to be hauled up.

Offline Slarty1080

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Re: Planetary protection issues Earth > Mars and Mars > Earth
« Reply #10 on: 12/30/2018 05:38 pm »
IMHO, planetary protection goes out the window with Starship. It is reusable and filled with humans. Sterilizing it and keeping it sterilized for repeated outbound and inbound trips will be impractical to the point of impossible.

I, for one, don't really care about protection issues for potential Martian bugs. We either want to go to Mars, or we don't. Planetary protection is decided by that binary choice. I want to see us go to Mars- hence my opinion.

So, the challenge, IMHO, is not technical; it is political. Once SpaceX changes a few minds in Congress (if any need changing), NASA gets a new directive and Starship gets to visit Mars.

And in the interest of disclosure, the company I own makes cold plasma chemical remediation equipment capable of reducing perchlorate. We have explored a "dishwasher" system of various sizes for removing perchlorates contained in dirt from suits, equipment,  vehicles, and even soil that colonists may want to bring inside.

I would broadly agree. I don't think the risks are significant, but it would be foolish (and possibly a PR problem) to ignore them. Every effort should be taken to minimise cross contamination as far as is practical in both directions until more in known.

I'm not sure what the legal situation is concerning this? If the Starship was ready to fly today and was sent on its way and returned in a few years’ time what sort of legal hoo-ha would/could they return to? That said I'm sure that SpaceX would be very keen to work with whoever to ensure this didn't occur.

Concerning perchlorates, presumably that is another good reason for keeping the two environments separated. I would have thought perchlorate contamination is a significant human health hazard as a powerful oxidant. How best to clean suits and equipment? I suggest suitlocks would be an excellent start, but beyond that what’s best - mechanical with a gas jet or brush? Electrostatic? Wet / chemical wash? Something else?


The first words spoken on Mars: "Humans have been wondering if there was any life on the planet Mars for many decades … well ... there is now!"