Press Release

Protection of “Special Regions” on Mars is Aim of NASA-Sponsored Study Results Described in Astrobiology

By SpaceRef Editor
October 29, 2006
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Protection of “Special Regions” on Mars is Aim of NASA-Sponsored Study Results Described in Astrobiology

The findings of a recent Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG)-led study to determine the potential for terrestrial life to propagate on Mars will be considered when NASA revises its policies and plans for future missions to Mars to ensure that areas of the planet designated as “special regions” are protected from the potentially damaging effects of the delivery of Earth microbes via spacecraft sent to the martian surface. The findings of the MEPAG Special Regions Science Analysis Group are published in the October 2006 issue (Volume 6, Number 5) of Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ( The report is available free online at

The results of the study could contribute to NASA’s Planetary Protection policy. MEPAG’s goal was to define more clearly the characteristics of a “special region”—one in which reproduction of terrestrial organisms might be possible. The emphasis was on identifying environmental thresholds for the limits of terrestrial life, and mapping those thresholds on Mars.

“Though this study was undertaken for the purpose of planetary protection, the scientific arguments will also be valuable in guiding future astrobiological investigations on Mars,” says journal Editor-in-Chief, Sherry L. Cady, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Geology at Portland State University. The study team proposed a new, more practical definition of a “special region,” along with implementation guidelines, based on several key findings. For example, the study identified key environmental conditions—including threshold temperature and presence of water—required to support life on Mars, concluding that these conditions should be the basis for designating an area as a “special region.” Also, if a spacecraft were to crash into Mars it would come in direct contact with only the outer 5 meters of the martian crust. Although all of Mars is protected, planetary protection policies should give special attention to this important region.

Astrobiology is the leading peer-reviewed journal in its field. To promote this developing field, the Journal has teamed up with The Astrobiology Web to highlight one outstanding paper per issue of Astrobiology. This paper is available free online at and to visitors of The Astrobiology Web at

Astrobiology is an authoritative peer-reviewed journal published quarterly in print and online. The Journal provides a forum for scientists seeking to advance our understanding of life’s origins, evolution, distribution, and destiny in the universe. A complete table of contents and a full text for this issue may be viewed online at

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry’s most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm’s 60 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available at


Vicki Cohn, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.,
(914) 740-2100, ext. 2156,

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
140 Huguenot St.,
New Rochelle, NY 10801-5215
Phone: (914) 740-2100
Fax: (914) 740-2101

SpaceRef staff editor.