Agreement on Planetary Protection
problems of spreading Earth-origin biological materials to other planets
and space in general, was recognized early in the space exploration programs
of most countries, around the world. In 1967 the UN Treaty on Outer
Space included a paragraph which dealt with the subject.
IX of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967:
to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space including the Moon and
other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid
their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment
of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter
and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose...”
more details go to UN
Treaty on Outer Space
In the USA, NASA developed its own planetary protection
policy, and this is a model which should be followed by anyone exploring
space. It is simple, straightforward and summed up in two
Planetary Protection Policy of NASA
Preserve planetary conditions for future biological and organic
To protect Earth and its biosphere from potential extraterrestrial sources
information on NASA Policy can be found at Astrobiology.
From these two statements NASA has
developed a series of documents which sets out the ground rules and specifies
what needs to be done to fulfill the policy.
Planetary Protection Documents
8020.7 establishes NASA policy for planetary
protection, which includes protection of planetary bodies for future exploration
and of Earth from extraterrestrial sources of contamination.
8020.12 is issued to delineate a uniform
set of planetary protection requirements for all NASA robotic extraterrestrial
missions. Implementation of these requirements will ensure that
biological safeguards are being followed in NASA's space programs.
5340.1 provides the basic procedures for
performing microbial assays for assessing contamination levels of spacecraft.
In order to carry out the policy, responsibility for its
implementation must be set.
Associate Administrator for Space Science is responsible for overall administration
of NASA planetary protection policy. The policy will be implemented
addition individual responsibility will be placed on individual Program
Directors, who have to:
the required activities in support of policy at NASA Headquarters
that the research and technology activities required to implement
policy are conducted
space flight missions as necessary to meet requirements for certification
requirements of planetary protection policy
conduct of reviews, inspections and evaluations
is also necessary to appoint a Planetary Protection Officer to whom authority
of Planetary Protection Authority (NPD 8020.7E)
of NASA’s Planetary Protection policy is delegated to the Planetary Protection
standards, procedures, and guidelines applicable to all NASA organizations,
programs, and activities.
to the Associate Administrator for Space Science and to the Administrator
prior to launch, and in the case of returning spacecraft, prior to the
return phase of the mission, prior to Earth entry, and again prior to
release of returned materials, that:
measures have been taken to meet NASA policy objectives
recommendations of the regulatory agencies with respect to planetary
protection have been considered and their statutory requirements have
obligations have been met and international implications have been
reviews, inspections, and evaluations of plans, facilities, equipment,
personnel, procedures, and practices.
actions as necessary to achieve conformance with applicable NASA policies,
procedures, and guidelines.
Certain constraints may have to be
placed on a mission if it is thought that any form of contamination may
Protection Mission Constraints
on the nature of the mission and on the target planet
on current knowledge, based on internal and external recommendations,
"but most notably from the Space Studies Board of the National Academy
Protection Mission Categories (NPG 8020.12B)
of spacecraft biological contamination
on spacecraft operating procedures
organic inventory and restrictions
on the handling of returned samples
of spacecraft trajectories and spacecraft material archiving
||Not of direct interest for understanding
the process of chemical evolution. No protection
of such planets is warranted (no requirements)
||Of significant interest relative
to the process of chemical evolution, but only a remote chance
that contamination by spacecraft could jeopardize
||Of significant interest relative
to the process of chemical evolution and/or the origin of life
or for which scientific opinion provides a significant
chance of contamination which
could jeopardize a future biological experiment.
||Any Solar System Body
International collaboration that everyone is following the
same policy and adopting the same standards in the exploration of outer
space is vital. There would be little point in NASA following
these policies if other countries and commercial users of space do not
adhere to the same rules. Agreement is being sought through The
Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).
on Space Research
established by the International Council of Scientific Unions, is
the interdisciplinary scientific organization concerned with international
progress in space exploration.
maintains a Planetary Protection Policy approved by the Council and
archived with the Secretariat in Paris.
policy development and promulgation capabilities need to be clarified
and intensified to meet the requirements of currently planned international
solar system exploration missions.
COSPAR Planetary Protection Activities
has formed a Planetary Protection Panel to:
maintain, and promulgate planetary protection knowledge, policy, and
plans to prevent the harmful effects of such contamination.
symposia, workshops, and topical meetings at COSPAR Assemblies to
provide an international forum for exchange of information in this
the international community, e.g., the Committee on the Peaceful Uses
of Outer Space (COPUOS) of the United Nations, as well as various
other bilateral and multilateral organizations, of COSPAR decisions
in this area.
The details of how the policies might be carried out is
important and the Space Studies Board (SSB), a branch of National Research
Council (NRC), has produced a series of recommendations for specific missions.
Mars Planetary Protection Studies by the Space Studies Board
following two studies laid the ground rules:
Biological Contamination of Mars: Issues and Recommendations, which reported
advice to NASA on measures to protect Mars from contamination by Earth
organisms, as well as overall policy guidance.
Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations, which reported advice
to NASA on Mars sample return missions.
Recommendations for Mars Sample Return
handling and preservation
returned from Mars should be contained and treated as though potentially
hazardous until proven otherwise.
sample containment cannot be verified en route to Earth, the sample
and spacecraft should either be sterilized in space or not returned
of sample containment should be maintained through reentry and transfer
to a receiving facility
distribution of unsterilized materials should only occur if analyses
determine the sample not to contain a biological hazard.
protection measures adopted for the first sample return should not
be relaxed for subsequent missions without thorough scientific review
and concurrence by an appropriate independent body.
contamination of returned samples with organisms or organic material
of terrestrial origin: “It will be important to stringently
avoid the possibility that terrestrial organisms, their remains, or
organic matter in general could inadvertently be incorporated into
sample material returned from Mars. Contamination with terrestrial
material would compromise the integrity of the sample by adding confusing
background to potential discoveries related to extinct or extant life
on Mars…. Because the detection of life or evidence of pre biotic
chemistry is a key objective of Mars exploration, considerable effort
to avoid such contamination is justified.”
issues were considered important:
return of uncontained martian material
Planetary Protection Requirements
for Sample Return (1)
of outbound spacecraft (Category IV-B)
is that terrestrial contamination of the returned sample may precipitate
“false positive” in the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life,
or in the hazard determination protocol.
from sterilization requirement must be justified by thorough modeling
Clean/sterilize spacecraft surfaces
that will come into contact with sample, and keep them clean
of recontamination/cross-contamination is the hard part.
contamination cannot be avoided, it needs to be extensively characterized.
inability to unequivocally identify a viable entity in the sample
as Earth-life may mean that an unsterilized sample can never be released
Planetary Protection Requirements
for Sample Return (2)
Extraterrestrial sample container
multiple means for sealing the container (multiple layers)
accidental release into Earth’s environment (the technical challenge
may be to confirm that the sample is sealed).
for fail-safe maintenance of seal in various Earth-landing modes.
for initial verification that design performed sealing action, and
verify only anomalous indications and non-nominal situations.
verification of seal and completion of nominal operations cannot be
demonstrated, then Earth return must be abandoned.
Planetary Protection Requirements
for Sample Return (3)
the chain of contact with the planetary body:
any “hitchhiker” entities traveling with the returned vehicle (and
not contained within the sealed sample container).
for Mars isolation in sample canister loading, launch, and transfer
recontamination during sample-transfer operations subsequent to
Mars Return Vehicle launch.
additional containment of sample canister within Earth Return Vehicle.
Planetary Protection Requirements
for Sample Return (4)
unsterilized samples until required “biohazard” testing is completed.
initial characterization of returned samples and allocate portion
for biohazard determination.
sterilized samples for special testing prior to distribution of unsterilized
sample portion (may be necessary for completion of biohazard testing,
Earth contamination of the sample throughout sample receiving, initial
characterization, biohazard testing, and subsequent curation and distribution.
Mars Planetary Protection Study by the Space Studies Board
for a quarantine and biosafety certification facility for extraterrestrial
samples, with the central question:
and Curation of Martian Samples.
on Planetary and Lunar Exploration.
related issues include:
are the criteria that must be satisfied before samples can be released
from the quarantine facility?
are the optimal techniques for isolating and handling planetary materials,
determining their content of biota (if any), and carrying out basic
geochemical characterization studies in the certification facility?
much capability for scientific analysis beyond that required for biosafety
certification should be incorporated into the facility, and what principles
should govern the utilization of this scientific capability?
what extent can valuable lessons be learned from the Apollo quarantine
addition to Mars, a mission to the Jupiter moon, Europa, is planned and
attention is now being paid as to its protection from contamination.
Study: Preventing the Forward Contamination of Europa
NRC Space Studies Board task group is evaluating the planetary protection
requirements and methods used to prevent forward contamination of Europa
in future orbiter and lander missions and will recommend any necessary
changes. Specifically, they will:
the levels of cleanliness and sterilization required to prevent forward
contamination of Europa given Europa's unique environment and our
current understanding of terrestrial microorganisms;
methods used to achieve the appropriate level of cleanliness and sterilization
of spacecraft and recommend alternatives in light of recent advances
in science and technology; and,
scientific investigations that should be accomplished to reduce the
uncertainty in the above assessment.
Europa Orbiter Science Objectives
the presence or absence of a subsurface ocean;
the three-dimensional distribution of any subsurface liquid water
and its overlying ice layers; and,
the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current
activity, and identify candidate landing sites for future lander missions.
Group 2 Objectives:
the surface composition, especially compounds of interest to pre biotic
the distribution of important constituents on the surface; and
the radiation environment in order to reduce the uncertainty for future
missions, especially landers.
NRC Report on Small Body Sample-Return
samples returned from planetary satellites and small solar system bodies
that must be contained should be treated as potentially hazardous until
sample containment and handling is warranted beyond what is needed for
scientific purposes for:
*Depending on parent body and time of exposure
to space environment
Io, new comets, Interstellar Dust Particles (IDP)* with a High Degree
Deimos, Callisto, C-type asteroids, undifferentiated metamorphosed
asteroids, differentiated asteroids, all other comets, IDP’s* with
a Lesser Degree of Confidence
containment and handling are warranted for:
Ganymede, P-type asteroids, D-type asteroids, IDP’s*
return provisions for contained samples are the same as for Mars
Planetary protection measures
adopted for the first sample return should not be relaxed for subsequent
missions without thorough scientific review and concurrence by an appropriate
independent body. For samples returned from bodies where a Lesser
Degree of Confidence is indicated for containment and handling, a conservative,
case-by-case approach should be used to assess the containment and handling
should consult with or establish an advisory committee with expertise
in the planetary and biological sciences relevant to such an assessment
should consult with or establish an advisory committee of experts from
the scientific community when developing protocols and methods to examine
returned samples for indicators of past or present extraterrestrial life
thanks go to Dr John Rummel, NASA's Planetary Protection Officer,
for the content of this page.
1999 Satellite Events Enterprises Inc.