The U.S. National Academies of Sciences (NAS), Engineering, and Medicine via an ad hoc committee is wrapping up a review and assessment of recent research on whether martian life might exist on the surfaces of the martian moons, Phobos and Deimos.

These two moons may have been ejected from the surface of Mars following a major impact.

Credit: ESA

Sample collection

Japan’s Martian Moon eXploration (MMX) mission is aiming for an early 2020s probe launch and would enter the quasi satellite orbit of the Martian moons and then observe them and collect samples.

Investigations are being made into the possible scenario of returning the probe to the Earth with its samples once the probe has completed its observations and collection.

Credit: JAXA

Rerestricted or unrestricted?

The NAS ad hoc committee has outlined some tasks to consider:

— Review, in the context of current understanding of conditions relevant to inactivation of carbon-based life, recent theoretical, experimental, and modeling research on the environments and physical conditions encountered by Mars ejecta during the following processes: a) excavation from the martian surface via crater-forming events; b) while in transit through cismartian space; c) during deposition on Phobos or Deimos; and d) after deposition on Phobos or Deimos.

— Recommend whether missions returning samples from Phobos and/or Deimos should be classified as “restricted” or “unrestricted” Earth return in the framework of the planetary protection policy

— Suggest any other refinements in planetary protection requirements that might be required to accommodate spacecraft missions to and sample returned from Phobos and/or Deimos.

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