University & High School Division
Resolved: An overriding ethical obligation to protect and preserve extraterrestrial microbial life and ecosystems should be incorporated into international law.
Middle School Division
Resolved: No space exploration should be permitted without showing that it will not harm extraterrestrial microbial life.
"The surface area of Mars is exactly as large as the land area of the Earth. A thorough reconnaissance will clearly occupy us for centuries. But there will be a time when Mars is all explored; a time after robot aircraft have mapped it from aloft, a time after rovers have combed the surface, a time after samples have been returned safely to Earth, a time after human beings have walked the sands of Mars. What then? What shall we do with Mars?
There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing this question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes. The existence of an independent biology on a nearby planet is a treasure beyond assessing, and the preservation of that life must, I think, supersede any other possible use of Mars."
Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1985)
The 2015-16 NASA Astrobiology Debates seek to focus public debate, dialogue and research on the ethical and policy questions raised by the potential discovery of extraterrestrial microbial life. In particular, the topic seeks to promote student inquiry into the broad ethical and policy implications of Carl Sagan’s famous statement, “If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes.” As such, affirmative teams should defend, at minimum, the proposition that humanity's ethical obligation to protect and preserve extraterrestrial microbial life should override the substantial costs and delays to space exploration and development that such an obligation may entail .