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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

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
1 hour ago - Health

Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's plan to accelerate the reopening of K-8 schools faces major challenges from a still out-of-control pandemic and more contagious coronavirus variants.

Why it matters: The longer American kids miss in-person schooling, the further they fall behind. But the uncertain state of the science on the role young children play in the pandemic continues to complicate efforts to reopen schools.

Focus group: Former Trump voters say he should never hold office again

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Relief" is the top emotion some swing voters who used to support Donald Trump say they felt as they watched President Biden's swearing-in, followed by "hope."

Why it matters: For voters on the bubble between parties, this moment is less about excitement for Biden or liberal politics than exhaustion and disgust with Trump and a craving for national healing. Most said Trump should be prohibited from ever holding office again.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.