Are there international laws or agreements to prevent Mars being polluted with human corpses?
If there are, are they underpinned with possible sanction?

Isn't it appropriate to make a distinction between microbes and human bodies in those laws or rules?

For instance, it's possible that a future crewed Mars mission could involve dead human bodies.

This question is not about the policies of any private organization; the question is about international agreed laws or rules with the back up of possible sanctions.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would corpses on Mars be an issue? $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Apr 22, 2018 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ As @Hobbes said, why do you think this is a problem? And why don't you think the existing agreements are enough? $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop
    Apr 22, 2018 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ I think your previous questions about contamination of solar system bodies are quite interesting, especially after you work on them a bit. But I think this one will be closed quickly. If you'd like to edit to re-open, why not first add some facts that you've learned from previous answers about any existing rules, laws, regulations or agreements as evidence of the prior research that it seems you have indeed done. Then you might explain that you'd like to find out if there is any possibility at all of protecting a planet from contamination from an extended human presence, and so you have... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 22, 2018 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ ...chosen a particularly potent and extreme example as a way of getting to the crux of the matter. Also, as the question hits on a topic that some might find a little yucky, you might consider a less off-colorful title to reassure some readers that you're looking for a serious, factual answer. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 22, 2018 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ There are some places on Earth where burial space for corpses is either very limited or non-existent and grave sites have to be recycled, but exporting corpses to Mars is somewhat extreme & hideously expensive. As for potential future Mars explorers or colonists what do you propose be done with their bodies when some die? Returning them to Earth, or getting them off Mars would be expensive. Jettisoning them into outer space would only create space junk which would be hazardous to space craft. Burial, cremation or chemical decomposition via acid, or whatever on Mars may be the only option. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Apr 22, 2018 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty requires parties to the Treaty to conduct their activities so as to avoid "harmful contamination" of celestial bodies, which would include Mars. This obligation also extends to the activities of commercial actors; Article VI of the Treaty requires States to ensure that their private actors' activities comply with Treaty obligations.

As far as what counts as "harmful contamination", right now most countries look to the COSPAR Guidelines as the most well-articulated set of rules to prevent contamination. The guidelines aren't themselves legally binding, but following them generally is seen as sufficient to meet the Article IX obligation. These guidelines would generally forbid the dumping of unsterilized human corpses, or other similar biological material, on Mars.

As for enforcement mechanisms, there aren't significant ones built into the Outer Space Treaty itself. Likely, complaints would be resolved through diplomatic channels, either through consultations and discussions in COPUOS, or directly between relevant parties to the Outer Space Treaty.

Edit to add additional information about crewed missions: The COSPAR guidelines don't have a lot of useful information about how we would handle the Article IX obligation in the context of a crewed mission to Mars (or Europa, or Ganymede, or other relatively high risk locations). This is something the international community is going to need to articulate and develop in the medium-term.


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