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Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA should consider relaxing some of its guidelines governing how to prevent the contamination of planetary bodies during robotic and human missions, according to a report released Friday.

Why it matters: NASA wants to be sure that if life is eventually found elsewhere in our solar system, it isn’t the result of contamination from our own world.

  • Planetary protection guidelines are designed to guard against that kind of contamination and protect our own planet from possible contamination as well.

Where it stands: The report from NASA's Planetary Protection Independent Review Board suggests NASA should consider reclassifying parts of the Moon and Mars to better reflect what scientists now understand about the worlds and their suitability for life.

  • Less stringent planetary protection standards would, in theory, break down barriers for commercial or other missions to land on planetary surfaces while still protecting those worlds.
  • Research into how best to protect planetary objects from contamination has advanced in recent years and that should be reflected in NASA’s rules, argue the report's authors.
“We want to move from the '60s, ‘70s point of view that all of Mars should be treated precisely one way and all of each world should be treated one way to this more nuanced view, where we differentiate between different sites on the surface in order to enable more science to be done."
— Alan Stern, head of the independent review board, during a press briefing

Go deeper

Parkland shooting victims' families settle suit with school district

A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2020. Photo: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Families and survivors of a 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., reached a $25 million settlement in their lawsuit against the Broward County school district Monday, per the South Florida SunSentinel.

Why it matters: A deal was reached in the suit over the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High after the school district won a Florida Supreme Court ruling that could have capped damages at $300,000 in total without approval from the state legislature, AP notes.

Texas Republicans pass new congressional maps in their favor

Photo: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Texas House voted 84-59 late Monday to approve new congressional district maps that reduce the number of districts with Black and Hispanic majorities, per the Texas Tribune.

Why it matters: The legislation comes after recent census figures found Texas' growing diverse population doesn't bode well for Republicans, who then worked to protect incumbents with the redrawn maps.

2 hours ago - World

North Korea's military fires another ballistic missile into sea

A woman in Seoul, South Korea, walks past a television image if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.