NASA’s Planetary Protection Office was created to “promote a responsible exploration of the solar system by implementing and developing efforts that protect the science, explorers, environments, and Earth.” This has been the agency’s policy, reflecting the non-contamination provisions of the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

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Now, some scientists question the need for restrictive contamination guidelines, arguing that new exploration, and in particular a direct search for life in the best places on the Red Planet, is being impeded.

Is planetary protection slowing down exploration and the search for life beyond Earth? Do we have the right to send robotic machinery, or even people, to Mars without giving biologists a chance study it, and look for life? What if that life is hidden underground from view, and requires humans to find it?

SETI Talk, Robert Zubrin, president and founder of the Mars Society, and John Rummel, former NASA Planetary Officer and currently a Senior Scientist with the SETI Institute, participate in an animated discussion on these issues, moderated by Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer.