The Puzzle of Planetary Protection

MSL Curiosity is busy investigating the surface of Mars, to see if that planet could have harbored life. Image: NASA/JPL/Cal-Tech

The recent announcement by NASA confirming the presence of liquid water on Mars pulls planetary protection into the spotlight and is causing some serious head-scratching in the scientific community. On the one hand, having existing liquid water on the Red Planet is a cause for wonder, excitement, and a strong desire to investigate it in a great deal more depth to look for the possibility of life. On the other hand, there is the dilemma of protecting a potential biosphere from contamination from Earthly bugs. As keen as the Curiosity mission team is to take advantage of the rover to have a much closer look at recurring slope lineae (RSL), the rover itself is just not clean enough.
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