These comments (1, 2) under @SpaceLawyer's answer to If Elon Musk wanted to bring back some Martian soil, would US permission be required? in Space Exploration SE say:

Let's not feel quickly relieved by the "details" of the planetary protection process described above. Here is a good complementary read Planetary Protection in the Space Era: Science and Governance. Extract:"As COSPAR is an independent organization without any legal mandate, the Planetary Protection Policy is an example of so-called “soft law” or a non-binding international instrument, in short, no one is under any legal obligation to comply with them".


Another good read How SCIENTISTS prevent Earth's microbes from contaminating other planets. Extract:"Attempts in the US Congress to potentially exempt private actors from planetary protection requirements have already happened, as part of a bill in 2018 to reduce the “regulatory burden” on the commercial space industry. The efforts failed, but those who supported it may try again."

Related in Space SE: What precautions are planned to prevent samples returned from Mars crashing and releasing organisms on Earth? which shows that "stuff happens".

Genesis crash site scenery

above: Genesis crash site scenery

The Genesis sample return capsule on the ground in Utah. The impact occurred near Granite Peak on a remote portion of the Utah Test and Training Range. No people or structures were anywhere near the area.

Question: Is there political activity in the US for regulation or banning of potentially biologically active samples from space to Earth? Who is doing so? Is there pending legislation? Are there any political actors who are blocking this?

  • 1
    Isn't this already covered by regular customs rules? Or does that only apply to people? The Apollo astronauts had to fill out customs forms, they seemed to have gotten away with a 'to be determined' in response to the 'conditions on board which may lead to the spread of disease' question.
    – JJJ
    Jul 23 at 1:57
  • 2
    @JJJ things have changed in a half-century, for one there is now going to be a lot of completely private spaceflight, some of it US-based but launched outside the US even. Historically NASA has abided by a lot of self-imposed restrictions that were not necessarily legislated in any clear way. In this new era of breakdown of behavioral norms, the need for explicit laws is ever-more apparent.
    – uhoh
    Jul 23 at 2:02

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