An international body, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) maintains a categorization of space missions, from I to V, in terms of the chance that they could result in biological contamination of the body visited, or in bringing something back to Earth. For each category they suggest appropriate procedures for sterilization, etc. Category I, for example, “includes any mission to a target body which is not of direct interest for understanding the process of chemical evolution or the origin of life. No protection of such bodies is warranted and no planetary protection requirements are imposed by this policy”. Category V includes any mission that returns to Earth. The categories are best understood by reading
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Last revised: 14 September 2011.