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Panel urges NASA to begin Mars sample quarantine preparations
Posted: Wed, May 30, 2001, 10:32 AM ET (1432 GMT)
Mars sample return mission illustration (NASA) A report published Tuesday recommends that NASA start work now on a containment facility to handle Martian samples returned by missions that are still more than a decade in the future. The report, by the National Research Council's Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, said that the complexity of building a facility that will prevent contamination of both the Martian sample and the terrestrial environment requires NASA to take action now so that the facility will be ready by the time the first sample return missions are launched, no sooner than 2011. The report also recommends that any samples either be kept in a containment facility or be sterilized before release unless there is absolutely no evidence of past or present biological activity in the sample. Committee chairman John Wood said the cost of building the quarantine facility would be "a small fraction" of the overall cost of a sample return mission, estimated to be in the billion-dollar range. Tuesday's report follows up on a 1997 report by the council that concluded that a quarantine facility was necessary because of the small, but non-zero, chance that such samples could harbor dangerous organisms.
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