The principal objective of the study will be to examine the role of robotic Mars exploration missions in assessing the risks to human exploration of Mars due to possible environmental, chemical, and biological agents on the planet. The fundamental question for the study will be to review the environmental, chemical, and biological risks to humans operating on Mars and to consider how the Mars robotic program can provide answers to mitigate those risks prior to a human mission. In the course of the study, the committee will review:
Prior studies by the NRC1 and others regarding the goals, objectives, and requirements of NASA's Mars exploration activities, both human and robotic;
Requirements identified by the NASA Human Exploration and Development of Space Enterprise to be levied on the robotic exploration program;
Plans of the robotic Mars exploration program in the context of how it can support preparations for eventual human exploration missions; and
NASA plans and requirements for validation of critical technologies in the actual Martian environment prior to committing to a program of human exploration. The review of critical technology validation will emphasize those technological issues that are directly relevant to managing environmental, chemical, and biological risks to humans operating on Mars.
Among the questions that the committee should consider in conducting its review are the following:
How well are the environmental, chemical, and biological risks to humans on Mars characterized and understood?
What additional measurements or data from Mars are necessary to properly characterize the risks?
Are there technologies which must be demonstrated in the Mars environment in order to ensure that environmental, chemical, and biological risks can be managed on a human mission to Mars?
Must samples from Mars be returned to Earth prior to sending a human mission for any reason, including:
Gaining sufficient confidence in understanding chemical and biological risks to humans on Mars, or
Ensuring the safety of the Earth's biosphere with respect to potential back-contamination from a returning human mission?
Relevant NRC reports:
Microgravity Research in Support of Human Exploration and Development of Space and Planetary Bodies, Space Studies Board (SSB), 2000.
Certification and Curation of Martian Samples, SSB, in review. Signs of Life: A Report Based on the April 2000 Workshop on Life-Detection Techniques, SSB and Board on Life Sciences, in preparation.
Assessment of the Strategy for Mars Exploration, SSB, in preparation.
Space Technology for the New Century, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB), 1998.
Advanced Technology for Human Support in Space, ASEB, 1997.
Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations, SSB, 1997.