January 1, 2019.
The Committee on Space Research is the international body that puts forth planetary protection policy to prevent the forward contamination of other planetary bodies. The Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group (BPPG) at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory strictly abides by these policies to minimize forward contamination by implementing microbial reduction procedures. In conjunction with microbial reduction, BPPG also routinely samples spacecraft and associated surfaces throughout assembly, testing, and launch operations to ensure that spacecraft bioburden is below an acceptable threshold. The NASA Standard Assay requires organisms collected from the spacecraft to be processed using sonication, heat shock, and subsequent growth for 72 hours. Counts of the resulting colonies are then used to calculate bioburden, and a subset of these colonies are archived for long-term storage and identification. Sampling events for the recent InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) mission to Mars resulted in the archiving of 1,293 bacterial isolates. During this internship, these 1,293 isolates were identified using a MALDI-TOF (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight) mass spectrometry and 16S rRNA sequencing hybrid approach. The resulting bacterial identities, along with metadata collected during the sampling events, were then used to compare the species reoccurrence between different parts of the spacecraft, different facilities involved in spacecraft assembly (JPL, Lockheed Martin, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Astrotech Space Operations), and the two separate InSight launch campaigns (2016 and 2018).
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
The 2018 STEM Teacher and Researcher Program and this project have been made possible through support from Chevron, (www.chevron.com) the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (www.marinesanctuary.org), the National Science Foundation through the Robert Noyce Program under Grant #1836335 and 1340110, the California State University Office of the Chancellor, and California Polytechnic State University in partnership with NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.