NASA’s Planetary Protection Review Addresses Changing Reality of Space Exploration

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to record this eastward horizon view on the 2,407th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Oct. 31, 2010). (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA released a report Friday with recommendations from the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB) the agency established in response to a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and a recommendation from the NASA Advisory Council.

With NASA, international, and commercial entities planning bold missions to explore our solar system and return samples to Earth, the context for planetary protection is rapidly changing. NASA established the PPIRB to conduct a thorough review of the agency’s policies. 

Planetary protection establishes guidelines for missions to other solar system bodies so they are not harmfully contaminated for scientific purposes by Earth biology and Earth, in turn, is protected from harmful contamination from space. 

The board’s report assesses a rapidly changing environment where more samples from other solar system bodies will be returned to Earth, commercial and international entities are discussing new kinds of solar system missions, and NASA’s Artemis program is planning human missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

The report discusses 34 findings, and 43 recommendations from the PPIRB, which was chaired by planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute to address future NASA missions and proposed missions by other nations and the private sector that include Mars sample return, robotic missions to other bodies, eventual human missions to Mars, and the exploration of ocean worlds in the outer solar system. 

“The landscape for planetary protection is moving very fast. It’s exciting now that for the first time, many different players are able to contemplate missions of both commercial and scientific interest to bodies in our solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We want to be prepared in this new environment with thoughtful and practical policies that enable scientific discoveries and preserve the integrity of our planet and the places we’re visiting.”

The PPIRB, comprised of a high-level team of 12 experts and stakeholders from science, engineering and industry, examined how to update planetary protection policies and procedures in light of current capabilities. Such guidelines have periodically been updated and inform exploration by spacefaring nations that have signed the Outer Space Treaty since the 1960s.

“Planetary science and planetary protection techniques have both changed rapidly in recent years, and both will likely continue to evolve rapidly,” Stern said. “Planetary protection guidelines and practices need to be updated to reflect our new knowledge and new technologies, and the emergence of new entities planning missions across the solar system. There is global interest in this topic, and we also need to address how new players, for example in the commercial sector, can be integrated into planetary protection.”

NASA plans to begin a dialogue about the PPIRB report’s recommendations with stakeholders, and international and commercial partners to help build a new chapter for conducting planetary missions, and planetary protection policies and procedures. 

For more information about Planetary Protection, visit:

https://sma.nasa.gov/sma-disciplines/planetary-protection

To read the full report of the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/reports

NASA to Discuss Planetary Protection Review’s Findings and Recommendations

This scene from the panoramic camera on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity looks back toward part of the west rim of Endeavour Crater that the rover drove along, heading southward, during the summer of 2014. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA will host a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, Oct. 18, to discuss recommendations presented by the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB), established in June 2019 by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on NASA’s website.

(more…)

New Planetary Protection Board to Review Guidelines for Future Solar System and Beyond Exploration

From its perch high on a ridge, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below. The view looks back at the rover’s tracks leading up the north-facing slope of “Knudsen Ridge,” which forms part of the southern edge of “Marathon Valley.” (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Following National Academy of Sciences recommendations, advice from the NASA Advisory Council, and subsequent unanimous agreement from NASA’s science leadership, the agency has established an independent Planetary Protection Review Board to review established guidelines for planetary protection and recommend any updates that are required. Planetary protection policies are designed to protect solar system bodies from contamination by Earth life, and to protect Earth from possible harm from potential biological sources beyond our planet.

(more…)











National Academies’ Recommendations to NASA on Planetary Protection

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
June 2018

Full Report

Findings & Recommendations

Recommendation 3.1

Finding: In connection with Mars sample return, planetary protection requirements for the sample containment, verification of containment, return vehicle and sample receiving facility are not yet in place.

Recommendation 3.1: NASA’s process for developing planetary protection policy for sample return missions should include early consultation with mission developers and managers, mission and receiving facility science teams, and microbiologists and include providing a means to use the best available biological and technological knowledge about back contamination and containment.
(more…)











Report: NASA Should Update Policies That Protect Planets, Other Worlds During Exploration Missions

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON — July 2, 2018 (NAS PR) – The current process for planetary protection policy development is inadequate to respond to increasingly complex solar system exploration missions, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

(more…)