Sustainability as a core principle of space and planetary exploration

Dimitra Atri, Paulina Umansky, Katepalli R. Sreenivasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human Society has renewed interest in exploration and settlement of the Moon, demonstrated by NASA's active Artemis program, privatization of United States' lunar exploration through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), and China's planned International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). Plans extend beyond just the Moon, driven by NASA's establishment of the Moon to Mars Program, developments in In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for crewed exploration, and commercial interests in asteroid resources. As we enter a new era of large-scale space exploration, both public and private for the first time, the environments of the Moon and Mars are at risk of being irreversibly altered by human activity. We propose that sustainability should be laid at the foundation of the next generation of human space exploration. To this end, existing planetary protection policies must be expanded to include requirements for protecting the Lunar and Martian environments beyond biological contamination, and guidelines founded on space sustainability should be expanded to include issues beyond orbital debris, crowding, and security. Existing and improved policies should adopt compliance incentives. This shift in policy is not only crucial for the long-term success of upcoming programs, but, if implemented, can foreseeably lead to positive developments on Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101636
JournalSpace Policy
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Law


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