To date no mission has been classed as being Category V according to the current COSPAR protocols, but it is likely that sample-return from Mars will occur within a decade or so. The potential for damage to the returned sample's integrity by contamination or degradation by handling is considerable. A precautionary stance is being adopted, with the SSB recommending that samples from Mars should have their containment integrity verified and proven during their return leg, and upon arrival all Martian samples should be treated as hazardous until proven otherwise (Rummel, 2001). Establishing the non-presence of a hazardous agent is not strictly possible, and to bring the level of certainty to a credible level will require as yet unknown combinations of analytical techniques. The overlap of disciplines (biochemistry, spacecraft engineering, law, among others) needed to ensure the safe and fruitful exploration of our Solar System makes planetary protection a vibrant and expanding field for present researchers, and one that has wide applicability to all denizens of the Earth, and perhaps, other worlds.
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