January 1, 2018.
NASA has developed mandatory planetary protection requirements for all outbound and inbound space missions beyond Earth orbit. Planetary Protection policies are set by COSPAR (Committee of Space Research) under the international provisions of the United Nation’s OST (Outer Space Treaty). It aims to promote responsible scientific exploration of the solar system, as well as support the study of chemical evolution and origins of life that may be present. All robotic missions must be categorized depending on their planetary destination and the mission type (flyby, orbiter, or lander). Round trip missions are all classified as Category V missions (restricted or unrestricted), dependent on if they are returning from a celestial body with potential for life. Planetary protection implementation is involved in multiple aspects of a mission, from its design to the End-of-Mission. Missions have a total bioburden count that they must not exceed and can be tested for in many ways. Microbial assays, dry heat processing, gowning practices, and extensive alcohol wipe cleaning are a few sterilization techniques to control biological contamination. These particular implementations are for robotic missions, however, and requirements will vary for human, commercial, and private missions. Human sample return missions would be placed under more stringent sterilization controls. These planetary protection methods and techniques will continue to change as new scientific information updates our understanding.
Microbiology | Other Life Sciences
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 SETI Institute. 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. Special thanks to my mentor at SETI Institute, Margaret Race, and my educational workshop leader, Greg Stoehr.