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‘Space law’ helps prevent earth’s microbes from polluting other planets

There are two planned Mars landings in 2021. First, NASA’s Perseverance rover is due to land on the planet later this month. Then China’s Tianwen rover will follow in May. Both missions intend to search the planet for signs of life.

But how do we make sure when our landers touch down on the red planet’s surface, nothing unwanted is landing with them? If we aren’t careful, we could be spreading all sorts of life – like in 2019, when a spacecraft crashed onto the moon’s surface with a cargo of tiny, almost indestructible lifeforms called tardigrades.

The good thing is, we have policies and laws to prevent this from happening. In fact, there’s an entire section of space law, called planetary protection, designed to prevent planets, moons, comets, and asteroids from being contaminated.

For 50 years, governmental organizations have stuck to the generally accepted rules and laws. But they are no longer the only players in the game. An increasing number of commercial space missions are taking off.