• Expanding the Definition of “Planetary Protection”: Ethical Space Exploration from an Environmental and Socio-Cultural Perspective

    Vera Assis Fernandes, Mónica Trüninger, Justin Walsh (see profile)
    Environmental sociology, Ethics, Law
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Research Committee on Futures Research RC07, 18th ISA World Congress of Sociology, Facing an Unequal World: Challenges for Global Sociology
    Conf. Org.:
    International Sociological Association
    Conf. Loc.:
    Yokohama, Japan
    Conf. Date:
    July 2014
    Environmental Humanities, Social science, Planetary protection, Ethics
    Permanent URL:
    For several decades, scientists have been voicing concern over “planetary protection” (PP). To an outside observer unaware of this term’s nuances, the phrase could easily be taken to include problems related to environmentalism, such as preservation of the natural landscape and natural resources. Instead, the term, as it is used today, refers only to practices intended to minimize biological contamination – of the Earth by extraterrestrial life, and vice-versa. The emergence, on the one hand, of private industries interested in exploiting space-based resources (e.g., mining the Moon for 3He) and the growth, on the other hand, of broad public support for environmental protections here on Earth, together suggest that the time is ripe to re-consider the full range of possible impacts caused by human activity in space be-fore irreparable harm is caused to the cosmic environment. This paper aims to unpack the concept of planetary protection, identifying its primary limitations and addressing these shortcomings through cross-fertilization with literature concerning sustainable development [1]. The final result is a proposal for a broader definition of PP. This reconceptualization is useful for framing new space policies, strategic plans, and programs in a manner that anticipates the future challenges of space exploration within a context of competing interests.
    Published as:
    Conference proceeding    
    Last Updated:
    7 years ago


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