International Committee Against Mars Sample Return

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The International Committee Against Mars Sample Return, or ICAMSR, is an advocacy group of scientists who campaign against Mars sample return. The Committee was founded in the year 2000.[1] They have been quoted in news stories[2] and books[3] discussing this type of mission. The Committee's name reflects only partially on their actual viewpoint;[3] the ICAMSR charter states their main goal is that samples should be certified safe in situ or in space first, before they are returned to Earth:[3]

Having planetary/cometary samples certified as "biosphere safe" in space or in-situ before they are transferred to the Earth’s surface is our main goal and intention.[4]

The director of ICAMSR is Barry DiGregorio; he has written on the topic of return samples safety on various websites[5][6] and magazines.[7] Notable ICAMSR advisors include Gilbert Levin who was responsible for one of the Viking spacecraft biological experiments, and Chandra Wickramasinghe.[8][2] DiGregorio, Levin, and Patricia Ann Straat have previously co-authored the book Mars: The Living Planet,[9] a 1997 re-examination of the Viking spacecraft biological experiments. The ICAMSR website devotes several pages to promoting Levin's controversial interpretation that the Viking Labeled Release experiments demonstrated signs of life on Mars.[1] This is currently a minority view amongst scientists.[2][10] In 2000, a CNN article said that: "In fact, DiGregorio, the author of Mars: The Living Planet, suggests epidemics that originate in space might have already taken place. Mass extinctions over the ages have been tied to giant meteorite or comet strikes. But such cataclysms could perhaps be more fully explained, he said, if science considers the possibility that extra-terrestrial viruses played a role, for example when the age of the dinosaurs ended 65 million years ago."[2] The same CNN article also said that "Many planetary scientists dismiss the risks as unwarranted or highly exaggerated, saying the surface of Mars is most likely lifeless, anyway."[2]

Carl Sagan was among the voices raising concerns about a Mars Sample Return in the 1970s; quotes from him feature prominently on the ICAMSR website. The main page of the ICAMSR website cites a passage from Sagan's The Cosmic Connection (1973, p. 114), in which he wrote:[1]

Precisely because Mars is an environment of great potential biological interest, it is possible that on Mars there are pathogens, organisms which, if transported to the terrestrial environment, might do enormous biological damage - a Martian plague, the twist in the plot of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, but in reverse. This is an extremely grave point. On the one hand, we can argue that Martian organisms cannot cause any serious problems to terrestrial organisms, because there has been no biological contact for 4.5 billion years between Martian and terrestrial organisms. On the other hand, we can argue equally well that terrestrial organisms have evolved no defenses against potential Martian pathogens, precisely because there has been no such contact for 4.5 billion years. The chance of such an infection may be very small, but the hazards, if it occurs, are certainly very high.

See also


  2. ^ a b c d e Richard Stenger Mars sample return plan carries microbial risk, group warns, CNN, November 7, 2000
  3. ^ a b c Jacques Arnould (2011). Icarus' Second Chance: The Basis and Perspectives of Space Ethics. Springer. p. 174. ISBN 978-3-7091-0712-6. 
  4. ^ ICAMSR - Charter
  5. ^ Barry E. DiGregorio Can Martian Microbes Endanger The Earth?,
  6. ^ Barry E. DiGregorio Another Threat to Earth: "Mars Sample Return",
  7. ^ Barry E. DiGregorio, The dilemma of Mars sample return, Chemical Innovation, August 2001, Vol. 31, No. 8, pp 18–27.
  8. ^ ICAMSR Advisors, retrieved 2013-7-16
  9. ^ Barry E. DiGregorio; Gilbert V. Levin; Patricia Ann Straat (1997). Mars: The Living Planet. Frog Books. ISBN 978-1-883319-58-8. 
  10. ^ Kevin W. Plaxco; Michael Gross (2011). Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction. JHU Press. pp. 285–286. ISBN 978-1-4214-0194-2. 
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