02 Jul 2007

Lessons in outer space hygiene

Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

The Open University is again showcasing its space science expertise at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition in London.

Protecting the Planets – a space age challenge to prevent cross-contamination between planets shows the public how space scientists minimise the risk of cross-contamination transfer of micro-organisms from Earth to space and vice-versa.

There are rules – a strict code of practice to prevent biological contamination of the planets and other Solar System bodies from Earth, and also to protect our own planet from any potentially hazardous material that could be brought back on a returned sample mission. ‘Planetary protection’ was formalised in the UN Outer Space Treaty and is administered by COSPAR (Committee on Space Research).

“Our work explores the sterilisation processes of sophisticated components and modern materials to make space missions as safe as possible for Earth as well as the rest of the Solar System,” says Dr Judith Pillinger from the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute. “This work could also help us with issues on Earth from preventing contamination of pristine environments like Antarctic sub-surface lakes, to ensuring instruments in an operating theatre are sterile.”

Research institutions involved in planetary protection include the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute of The Open University, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Universities of Leicester and Cranfield, several companies from the UK space sector and the European Space Agency.

Dr Simeon Barber, Professor Colin Pillinger FRS, Dr Judith Pillinger and Professor Ian Wright, Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute at The Open University are at the exhibit which runs from July 2 through July 5 at the Royal Society.

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