Utilitarian Rights-based Arguments for Planetary Protection

Protecting solar system bodies from contamination by Earth life has been an active research topic since the start of the space race. The prospect of finding and possibly contaminating extraterrestrial life has caused the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to set technical standards for planetary protection; planetary protection is essential to preserve humanity’s ability to study other worlds in their natural states, to avoid contamination that would obscure the ability to find life elsewhere, and to ensure that Earth’s biosphere is protected from alien life. Until recently, these utilitarian considerations have been sufficient in addressing all ethical concerns while exploring outer space. However, the prospect of terraforming Mars has sparked a debate over the ethical implications of destroying possible alien organisms. This paper provides a historical background regarding the ethical considerations in human space exploration and argues that the utilitarian considerations provided by the NASA Office of Planetary Protection are sufficient for answering ethical questions regarding planetary protection within the solar system.

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