International Committee Against Mars Sample Return

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The "International Committee Against Mars Sample Return",[1] or ICAMSR, is a small group of scientists who work to raise awareness of planetary protection issues involved in a Mars sample return. They have been quoted in news stories about plans for Mars Sample Return.[2][3][4][5][full citation needed]

On their main page they say:

Committee Against Mars Sample Return (ICAMSR) urges the scientific and environmental communities to consider avoiding the return of Martian samples directly to Earth as problems with electronic circuitry malfunctions are common as well as accidental impacts. The study of Martian soil and rocks for signs of life can be accomplished with in-situ life detection instruments on Mars, something NASA has not done since the twin Viking mission in 1976. The question must be asked: Do the benefits of studying Martian samples in laboratories on Earth outweigh the risk of contaminating our world? We only have one Earth.

The director of ICAMSR is Barry DiGregorio, author of the book "Mars: The Living Planet",[6] a 1997 re-examination of the Viking biology results. Notable advisors include Gilbert Levin who was responsible for the Viking spacecraft biological experiments, and Chandra Wickramasinghe.[7]

The original inspiration comes from Carl Sagan's concerns about Mars Sample Return, as described in his book the Cosmic Connection, where he wrote (in 1973):[8]

Precisely because Mars is an environment of great potential biological interest, it is possible that on Mars there are pathogens, organisms which, if transported to the terrestrial environment, might do enormous biological damage - a Martian plague, the twist in the plot of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, but in reverse. This is an extremely grave point. On the one hand, we can argue that Martian organisms cannot cause any serious problems to terrestrial organisms, because there has been no biological contact for 4.5 billion years between Martian and terrestrial organisms. On the other hand, we can argue equally well that terrestrial organisms have evolved no defenses against potential Martian pathogens, precisely because there has been no such contact for 4.5 billion years. The chance of such an infection may be very small, but the hazards, if it occurs, are certainly very high.

Carl Sagan's concerns are shared by other scientists who have looked at issues of a Mars sample return, including Joshua Lederberg[9][10]

The NRC and ESF studies came to the conclusion that though the potential for large-scale negative effects appears to be very low, it is not demonstrably zero[11] . These findings on risks of environmental disruption are accepted by most participants in this debate (with the notable exception of Robert Zubrin[12][13]). As a result, it is agreed by most researchers that a full and open public debate of the back contamination issues is needed at an international level.[14] This is also a legal requirement.[15][16]

However, the view of NASA, and ESA, is that these risks can be contained and that a sample return can be carried out safely provided the correct precautions are taken. For details see Mars Sample Receiving Facility and sample containment

The ICAMSR are of the view that, given that equipment can fail and there can be accidents, such a sample return is hard to guarantee safe to the level that would be needed when the fate of the environment of Earth itself could be at stake. They recommend searching for life in situ first, and have as their main goal, that samples are certified safe in situ or in space first before they are returned to 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.[17]

References[edit | hide | edit source]

  2. Richard Stenger Mars sample return plan carries microbial risk, group warns CNN
  3. Barry E. DiGregorio Can Martian Microbes Endanger The Earth?
  4. Jacques Arnould Icarus' Second Chance: The Basis and Perspectives of Space Ethics
  5. Barry E. DiGregorio Another Threat to Earth: "Mars Sample Return"
  6. Barry DiGregorio Mars: The Living Planet North Atlantic Books, 29 Sep 1997 ISBN 1883319587
  7. ICAMSR Advisors
  8. Carl Sagan,The Cosmic Connection - an Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973) ISBN 0521783038
  9. Joshua Lederberg Parasites Face a Perpetual Dilemma Volume 65, Number 2, 1999 / American Society for Microbiology News 77.
  10. Mars Exploration Strategies: Forget About Sample Return D. A. Paige, Dept. of Earth and Space Sciences, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095
  11. "Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions", National Research Council, 2009, chapter 5, "The Potential for Large-Scale Effects". "Thus, a key question posed to the committe is whether a putative martian organism or organisms, inadvertently released from containment, could produce large-scale negative pathogenic effects in humans or have a destructive impact on Earth's ecological system or environments." (page 45) They divide it into 3 categories
    • Large-scale negative pathogenic effects in humans;
    • Destructive impacts on Earth's ecological systems or environments; and
    • Toxic and other effects attributable to microbes, their cellular structures, or extracellular products.

    (page 45)

    They conclude that the last one is unlikely. But for the other two

    The committee found that the potential for large-scale negative effects on Earth's inhabitants or environment by a returned martian life form appears to be low, but is not demonstrably zero.

    (page 48)
  12. Robert Zubrin "Contamination From Mars: No Threat", The Planetary Report July/Aug. 2000, P.4–5
  13. transcription of a tele-conference interview with ROBERT ZUBRIN conducted on March 30, 2001 by the class members of STS497 I, "Space Colonization"; Instructor: Dr. Chris Churchill
  14. "5: "The Potential for Large-Scale Effects"". Mars Sample Return backward contamination - strategic advice (PDF) (Report). European Science Foundation. 2012. RECOMMENDATION 10: Considering the global nature of the issue, consequences resulting from an unintended release could be borne by a larger set of countries than those involved in the programme. It is recommended that mechanisms dedicated to ethical and social issues of the risks and benefits raised by an MSR are set up at the international level and are open to representatives of all countries.  line feed character in |quote= at position 22 (help)
  15. Mars Sample Return backward contamination – Strategic advice and requirements see 7.2: Responsibility and liability of States
  16. M. S. Race Planetary Protection, Legal Ambiguity, and the Decision Making Process for Mars Sample Return Adv. Space Res. vol 18 no 1/2 pp (1/2)345-(1/2)350 1996
  17. ICAMSR - Charter
This article uses material from the June 2013 revision of International Committee Against Mars Sample Return on Wikipedia ( view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo