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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions 7 Sample-Receiving Facility and Program Oversight To achieve the many science objectives that could be accomplished with a Mars sample return mission, it will be necessary to plan, construct, and operate a sample-receiving facility (SRF) with the requisite containment levels, cleanliness conditions, instruments, protocols, and skilled personnel needed to begin the task of fully exploiting the unique opportunities presented by Mars sample return.1,2 In the past decade, discussions about Mars sample return missions have advanced considerably, generating a wealth of valuable information that has been applied to problems of sample handling, life detection, and biohazard testing. Initial thinking about Mars sample return, and about an SRF for housing samples, borrowed heavily from lessons learned during the Apollo missions by the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.3,4,5 Many workshops and studies also have reviewed the science, technologies, methods, and practical issues associated with plans for sample return and testing materials on Earth.6,7,8,9,10,11 Additionally, there is a long and successful record of handling extraterrestrial geological samples in ways that maximize analysis and interpretations, without compromising scientific integrity.12,13 Even recent experiences with the Stardust and Genesis sample return missions have provided useful information and guidance, particularly with respect to the landing, transport, and testing of extraterrestrial materials on Earth. Other relevant information for sample-return planning has been made possible by the recent rapid expansion of the number of high-level biocontainment laboratories constituting the national biodefense infrastructure. Because they were planned, sited, and constructed as a cohort of containment laboratories, amidst intense public and media scrutiny, they provide valuable lessons of importance for SRF planning and oversight.14,15,16 These experiences, in combination with various workshops and publications, have provided valuable information concerning the technological, scientific, and other inputs needed for Mars sample return mission planning. RISK ASSESSMENT One of the key issues to address in the design of a Mars sample return mission, in general, and an SRF, in particular, relates to the concept of risk. Decisions concerning how to deal with biohazardous materials have to be preceded by a risk assessment. Ultimately, any discussion of the detailed design of a Mars sample return mission and the construction and operation of an SRF will be centered on risk mitigation and reduction. From a
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions biological-hazard perspective, risk is generally a function of hazard (the agent) and the probability that a negative event will occur based on the tasks to be performed with the agent. Consequently, risk-mitigation strategies will focus on eliminating the hazard and/or reducing the probability of a negative event. Both will lead to a risk that is considered acceptable, since achieving zero risk is not possible. NASA has not yet performed the specific type of risk assessment that might be associated with the design of, for example, a biosafety level (BSL)-4 facility. Such an assessment is premature given that planning for both a Mars sample return mission and an SRF is currently only at the stage of conceptual definition. However, NASA has done a good job so far of considering risk. Issues of biosafety, biosecurity, and biocontainment were discussed at length throughout the process by which the draft protocol was assembled and in reviews and analyses of current methods, instruments, equipment, and facilities used for biocontainment versus planetary science containment. Considerable attention has been paid to the nature of the agent (i.e., pristine martian materials) and to the possible risks associated with it. Finally, U.S. and international experts on biosafety, biocontainment, and risk assessment have participated in many of the past discussions of a Mars sample return mission and an SRF. TIMESCALE FOR ESTABLISHING A SAMPLE-RECEIVING FACILITY Although there still is no facility in existence anywhere that combines the requisite biocontainment levels, cleanliness conditions, instrumentation, and other features needed for the characterization and testing of returned martian samples, there is an increasingly clear understanding of what will be required and how it can be accomplished. In addition, existing recommendations provide different viewpoints concerning how and when such an SRF should be established (Table 7.1). It has been estimated that the planning, design, site selection, environmental reviews, approvals, construction, commissioning, and pre-testing of a proposed SRF will occur 7 to 10 years before actual operations begin.17,18,19 In addition, 5 to 6 years will likely be required for refinement and maturation of SRF-associated technologies for safely containing and handling samples to avoid contamination and to further develop and refine biohazard-test protocols. Many of the capabilities and technologies will either be entirely new or will be required to meet the unusual challenges of integration into an overall (end-to-end) Mars sample return program. It will be particularly important to recognize the added lead time needed to establish an SRF while avoiding complications that could jeopardize mission success. Significant planning time for hardware development and testing must be allocated to allow for selection of the best technology concepts among various alternatives proposed and tested. As noted in the iMARS preliminary report,20 planetary protection and sample receiving are important considerations for designing the Mars sample return mission architecture. These concerns can significantly affect design and time ramifications, with direct and indirect implications for both flight and ground-related mission elements, including control of forward contamination (e.g., to avoid contaminating samples with hitchhiking terrestrial organisms during the collection and packaging of samples on Mars), breaking the chain of contact with Mars, designing a reliable sample container, ground recovery, development of an SRF, sample handling and controls for avoiding contamination, and biohazard-testing protocols. For example, even as a quarantine facility is being planned, there is a need to construct and test mock-ups of clean-room/containment combinations. The experiences from the Genesis and Stardust sample return missions have demonstrated the increased importance of scrutinizing the entire sample-handling and containment chain, including the landing site characteristics, ground recovery, and transport to ground facilities, not just the quarantine or containment laboratory per se (Stardust and Genesis did not have quarantine laboratories). In addition to technology and hardware developments, it is also important to acknowledge the uncertain lead time that will be needed to accommodate the diverse regulatory review and approval processes that will apply to biocontainment laboratory construction in the post-9/11 era. There is likely to be active public involvement in the decision-making process for a proposed SRF and perhaps even legal challenges that would introduce complications not typically experienced in mission planning.21 To avoid jeopardizing mission success, there is a strong need to incorporate all aspects of an SRF and sample handling at the earliest stages of Mars sample return mission planning.
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions TABLE 7.1 Comparison of Major Recommendations Made in Previous Reports from the National Research Council, NASA, and the iMARS Working Group Category Approaches Recommended NRC 1997a NRC 2002b Planetary Protection Overall and En Route (Inbound to SRF) No uncontained martian materials may be returned to Earth unless sterilized Not applicable; (study only considers the handling of materials on Earth) If containment not verified en route, must sterilize or not return to Earth Not discussed Containment integrity maintained throughout re-entry and transfer to SRF Not discussed; report focuses on samples after arrival at SRF Planetary Protection Measures (Missions) Planetary protection controls should not be relaxed for future missions without review by an independent scientific body Not applicable Assumptions About Martian Life Extraterrestrial Life Martian life might exist and could be returned in samples, but martian organisms unlikely to pose a risk of pathogenic or ecological effects on Earth Possibility that samples from Mars will contain viable martian microorganisms—which requires that samples be handled in ways that will protect both terrestrial environments and martian samples from any cross-contamination Biohazards Samples should be contained and treated as potentially hazardous until proven otherwise; potential biohazards viewed as replicating entities; martian life deemed unlikely to cause infectious, pathogenic, or ecological effects, although the probability is not zero. Subcellular disease agents (e.g., viruses, prions) are biologically part of their host organisms, and extraterrestrial sources of such agents that could affect Earth organisms are extremely unlikely Agrees with the need to contain and test samples before release; raises concerns that returned samples could include replicating organisms that are self-reliant and able to proliferate in an alien terrestrial world (ignores the potential for viruses, viroids, prions, or other possible biohazards)
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions NASA 2002c iMARS 2008d Accepts NRC 1997 recommendations and requirements Accepts requirement of containment and biohazard testing for release Accepts NRC 1997 recommendations and requirements Technology developments focus on reliable sample containment throughout all mission phases, including landing, transport of hardware and samples to SRF; operations in SRF until samples are cleared for release; in-flight verification of containment and system-level terminal sterilization Assumes samples will be returned unsterilized and exterior of sample-return canister will be free of martian materials; container to be opened only in the SRF, followed by rigorous biohazards testing Assumes draft protocol report will be updated and used to plan SRF; containment to be maintained thoughout re-entry and transfer of samples to SRF Not applicable Not applicable If returned samples include martian life, it may or may not be “life as we know it”; the absence of carbon is not evidence for absence of life, but sterilization will be adequate to break the chemical bonds of biological molecules Not applicable; study focused on facility operations and technology and not issues of science and the potential for martian life Agrees with the need to contain and test returned samples for biohazards; only replicating organisms or entities that can be replicated and amplified by a terrestrial biological system pose a potential widespread threat. Other potential hazards (e.g., toxins) may be important to consider in protecting laboratory workers exposed to returned samples. Levels of containment and handling in the SRF should be based on perceived risks from biohazards; other potential hazards are dealt with accordingly Not applicable
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions Category Approaches Recommended NRC 1997a NRC 2002b Criteria for Release: Controlled Distribution of Unsterilized Materials Samples may be released from containment only if rigorous analyses determine that no biohazards are present, or if subsamples are sterilized first If samples contain certain or equivocal evidence of martian life, then sterilize to certify for release If samples contain certain or equivocal evidence of life, may transfer to alternate approved facilities, provided all containment and transfer protocols are approved and followed If samples contain no organic carbon compounds and no evidence of past or present biosignatures, can release untreated aliquots from SRF containment without sterilization, for further testing If there is unmistakable evidence of life in samples, they should be dedicated to biological studies (there is also the need to reconsider the optimal study plan and required staffing). In the interim, no releases, unless warranted for biological testing and only if samples sterilized If initial tests are unable to rule out evidence of martian life, or fossilized biosignatures, promptly sterilize aliquots and move samples from SRF to other laboratories for additional biological and geological testing Decision Making About Release Decision making for sample release will be based on data from sample characterization, advice of a science advisory committee, and other more specific criteria to be determined Decision to release samples will be based on the results of protocol and biohazard assessments completed in SRF; science advisory committee to provide guiding recommendations Sample-Receiving Facility Rationale for a Sample-Receiving Facility (SRF) SRF needed to contain and process returned materials In agreement that an SRF is needed; SRF must comply with all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health high-containment requirements for BSL-4 laboratories; SRF needs to be able to carry out many functions (unpacking, preliminary examination, baseline characterization, weighing, photography, splitting, repackaging, storage, and sterilization) SRF Timing Establish SRF as soon as possible, but at least 2 years prior to launch Establish 7 years in advance of returned materials; deferring will compromise both quarantine and the scientific study of samples
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions NASA 2002c iMARS 2008d No solids may be released prior to the preliminary examination of sample materials, with baseline descriptions, cataloguing, and repackaging Subsamples of filtered head gases from the sample container to be made available for distribution beyond SRF without further processing or sterilization Pristine materials only released after physical and chemical, life detection, and biohazards tests are completed and yield no evidence for martian life, or if subsamples are sterilized first Deliberately conservative approach taken (relative to the NRC 2002 report); regardless of the outcome of physical and chemical tests (e.g., carbon content), or life detection tests, all samples should undergo complete biohazards testing before release from containment, unless first sterilized Samples containing any active martian life form, whether hazardous or not, should be kept under appropriate containment, or sterilized before release Samples with life-related molecules require more extensive testing, including biohazards testing, before their release If biohazards tests yield no evidence for living, self-replicating entities, or harmful effects on terrestrial life under Earth conditions, then samples may be released Not applicable; study recognizes that decisions to release materials reflect both scientific and operational aspects of SRF Decisions regarding sample release from quarantine to be determined from observational data, and based on advice of a science advisory committee; specific criteria to be refined prior to operation of SRF Gradual reduction of containment level and removal from high containment is possible, depending on the results of biohazards and other tests; contingency plans needed regarding procedures if life is discovered, if test results are equivocal, or if containment is breeched Not applicable SRF and protocol objectives: Must contain samples until it is determined whether samples are a threat to Earth’s biosphere; SRF needed to implement NRC-recommended sample handling and testing under strict BSL-4 containment and any ambient conditions needed to maintain samples’ integrity for scientific analysis; in addition to protocol testing at SRF, must consider environmental, health and safety issues, personnel training, regulatory reviews, and so on. SRF necessary; details to be determined by others Commissioning of SRF should occur ~3 years in advance of sample return. Construction and commissioning should be completed at least 2 years in advance of sample delivery to SRF; progressive hiring of personnel and functions should occur before samples are returned SRF construction and commissioning should be completed 3 years before sample return; ~12 years will be required for the entire SRF planning and implementation process, and ~6 years for maturation of SRF technologies
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions Category Approaches Recommended NRC 1997a NRC 2002b Sample-Receiving Facility SRF Characteristics and Operations Not applicable Design SRF to be small, simple; no science will be done at the SRF that can be done using sterilized materials in outside laboratories Avoid Apollo experiences with vacuum; keep SRF design as simple as possible SRF Location Not mentioned; report written under the assumption that NASA will take the lead in an Mars sample return mission SRF to be located in the United States in affiliation with an existing BSL-4 containment facility, but under NASA control; shared management and operations with international partners; no release before preliminary sample testing is completed SRF Teams and Staffing Multidisciplinary science teams will develop and validate procedures for physical and chemical testing, life detection, and biohazards testing, and sample containment and sterilization Specifics of sample protocol need to be articulated; SRF will require a highly trained cadre of scientists and support personnel; SRF personnel must be able to work in BSL-4 conditions, under containment; pretraining will be required SRF Advisory (Oversight) Committee SRF maintained by an advisory panel of scientists; no date stipulated for establishing an SRF (2 years pre-launch?) SRF will maintain a committee of senior U.S. and international biologists and geochemists to oversee each phase of SRF construction (planning, construction, staffing); advisory committee will also participate in the design of mission elements to address concerns over biological contamination; advisory committee should be established at the earliest stage of Mars sample return planning Oversight and Related Items Intergovernmental Oversight (Planetary Protection Policies and Overall Compliance) Committee of experts needed to coordinate regulatory responsibilities and advise NASA on planetary protection measures; committee should be in place 1 year prior to the establishment of SRF and 3 years prior to launch Not specifically mentioned; report focuses on SRF oversight NASA Administrative Structure Need to establish a NASA administrative structure to verify and certify adherence to planetary protection requirements at each stage of mission planning Not specified Public Communication Must keep the public openly informed of all plans, activities, scientific results, and any associated issues Not specified
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions NASA 2002c iMARS 2008d At a minimum, size and scope of SRF will depend on needs of the sample protocol; ideally, SRF design will be flexible, expandable, and able to adapt functionally; SRF design must consider long-term operations should life be discovered; SRF should support investigator-driven research; some aspects of testing can be done in secondary laboratories, but all must meet containment requirements Size, scope, and location of SRF to be determined; must provide adequate containment of flight hardware and samples throughout testing for biohazards; should adopt best practices of a BSL-4, plus strict contamination control, especially in the sample-handling chain; will likely need a combination of full-suit lab facility, glove-box lines, robotic manipulation, and a decontamination capability for flight equipment, instruments, and samples Allows for a variety of SRF strategies and locations; strict containment required; maximize potential for early scientific studies; assumes that primary SRF will be in the United States, with international partners working collaboratively during preliminary testing protocols Ideally, SRF will be in close proximity to an established, relevant research facility (existing high-containment laboratory, or research cluster); SRF should not be geographically or intellectually isolated SRF to support investigator-driven research and long-term operations with cooperative agreements with existing BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories for personnel training and experience SRF(s) will maintain multidisciplinary science teams; biosafety officer likely to come from host country Continuing oversight of SRF planning and implementation by science advisory committee; anticipated that real-time adjustments to the protocol will be required by scientific findings; oversight committee should be established as much as 10 years in advance of Mars sample return; subcommittees needed include a science working group, design committee, and SRF oversight committee SRF will require an IBC-type oversight committee; oversight needs to be in place several years in advance of the SRF target date for operations; special attention should be given to including international management of the SRF; details to be determined Review of final protocol should be conducted at the highest scientific levels (e.g., NRC and its international equivalents); oversight should also involve the NASA Planetary Protection Advisory Committee (now the Planetary Protection Subcommittee) and the Mars equivalent of the lunar Interagency Committee on Back Contamination, with multidisciplinary experts from U.S. and international regulatory bodies Oversight needed; details will depend on the legal framework provided by the host country where SRF is sited; assumes involvement of both U.S. and international partners Not specified Not specified Need to develop a plan for communicating information about Mars sample return, SRF, and scientific findings; plan must be in place well in advance of protocol implementation; advocates a proactive, open dialogue approach; planning should provide guidelines for education and public outreach and details for handling perceived risks and uncertainties Information about Mars sample return and SRF should be communicated openly to the public; information about SRF will be important for ensuring public confidence
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions Category Approaches Recommended NRC 1997a NRC 2002b Research Needs/Areas of Research and Development Ongoing in situ surface and orbital studies of Mars needed to identify sites where life could exist, as well as inherently sterile environments; need for more research on extremophiles, martian meteorites, and the potential for dispersal of microbes impact (panspermia); recommends precursor mission for remote sampling of Mars; technology development issues include sample containment and methods for in-flight verification of containment and sterilization and contamination control Need more research on sterilization and soluble extraction methods for organic compounds in rock matrices prior to sample arrival; recommends immediate testing of mock-ups of containment/clean-room combinations to prove functionality and efficacy NOTE: BSL, Biosafety Level; NRC, National Research Council; SRF, sample-receiving facility. aNational Research Council, Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997. bNational Research Council, The Quarantine and Certification of Martian Samples, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2002. cJ.D. Rummel, M.S. Race, D.L. DeVincenzi, P.J. Schad, P.D. Stabekis, M. Viso, and S.E. Acevedo, eds., A Draft Test Protocol for Detecting Possible Biohazards in Martian Samples Returned to Earth, NASA/CP-20-02-211842, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., 2002. OTHER ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH MARS SAMPLE RETURN In the years since publication of the NRC’s 1997 report Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations,22 there have been numerous proposals for alternative approaches to handling sample return. For example, there has been debate about whether there should be multiple sample-receiving laboratories, rather than a single SRF; the advisability of transporting pristine subsamples to facilities outside the SRF to use special instruments or expertise for testing and sample characterization (see Chapter 6); and whether to site the SRF at a NASA center or in association with an existing BSL-4 containment facility. Discussions have also continued about the requirement to maintain all samples in containment until a full battery of biohazard tests have been completed—and how to accommodate the transport of sample materials to facilities outside the SRF for analysis using specialized instruments. In addition, prospects for international mission partnerships and shared responsibilities for the testing of returned materials have further complicated these discussions. Clearly, a detailed discussion of these and other issues is beyond the scope of the present report. Suffice it to say that whatever decisions are made about containment and handling, the following planetary protection objectives should be given priority for implementation: Maintain the prescribed and appropriate levels of containment for pristine sample materials until a requisite battery of rigorous tests have been completed; and
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions NASA 2002c iMARS 2008d Need to develop effective sterilization methods and to evaluate effects of sterilization on integrity of geological samples; need to refine methods and measures of sample preparation; raises many specific unresolved issues related to physical and chemical characterization, life detection and biohazard testing; need for regular updates of biohazard testing methods, containment issues, toxicogenomics, refinement of planetary protection and containment guidelines, with exploration of containment options and potential retrofitting of existing containment facilities; need to explore self-contained robotic-handling devices and potential for the miniaturization of analytical instruments; need to develop methods for the reinterrogation of samples at precise locations within samples for diverse testing; need for subsampling procedures and methods for validation/determination of statistical relevance of representative samples selected from heterogeneous materials; need to develop model systems and microcosms for testing of analog and returned sample materials; need to develop robust methods for cell culturing; need life detection methods that can be carried out under simulated martian conditions Need proper packaging of samples to preserve scientific value of returned samples (e.g., avoiding pulverization, mixing of materials); need to develop methods for avoiding contact transfers of Earth-sourced contaminants (organics, inorganics, and organisms) to sample surfaces; must define end-to-end requirements and analyses for controlling sample cross-contamination; need refinements in the ways that science interfaces with engineering throughout missions; need technological developments that include methods for aseptic sample transfer, redundant containment of flight system hardware, and methods for biohazard testing of samples on Earth dInternational Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples Working Group, Preliminary Planning for an International Mars Sample Return Mission: Report of the International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, NASA, Washington, D.C., and European Space Agency, Paris, France, 2008. Preserve, to the maximum extent possible, the scientific integrity of samples during handling and biohazard testing under containment. In conclusion, as long as containment is maintained at every stage of post-recovery handling and testing and samples are prepared and tracked in appropriate ways, then sample-handling and sample-testing procedures may be accomplished in a variety of ways, perhaps involving multiple laboratories or locations. Regardless of what final decisions are made regarding the containment and handling of returned samples, it will be essential to initiate comprehensive, coordinated planning during the earliest phases of Mars sample return planning. OVERSIGHT As already noted,23,24 the design, construction, and operation of an SRF will require the coordination and work of multiple teams of experts, spanning a decade or more of planning. It will be important for various layers of scientific and technical oversight to be in place early in the planning process to ensure continuity throughout the lengthy and complex Mars sample return mission planning process. In addition to the establishment of a body to provide scientific and technical advice relating to an SRF, there is also a need for higher-level oversight of all planetary protection requirements associated with Mars sample return. It is clear to the committee that NASA will need to obtain continuing interagency advice (e.g., from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and relevant biosecurity agencies and organizations) on planetary
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions protection policies and compliance, similar to the functional role played by the Interagency Committee on Back Contamination (ICBC) during the Apollo program. At present, important advice is provided via the interagency representation on NASA’s internal Planetary Protection Subcommittee (PPS). However, the PPS currently reports via the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, an arrangement that could, arguably, lead to conflicts of interest with science and mission efforts. Indeed, the history of the Apollo program, for example, is replete with occasions on which planetary protection concerns and considerations were overruled or ignored when they conflicted with other aspects of mission operations. Appropriate organizational arrangements should be made to avoid such conflicts. PUBLIC COMMUNICATION AND PROVISION OF INFORMATION Experience with past and present Mars missions, and with the recent Genesis and Stardust sample return missions, indicates that there will be keen public interest in any program to return martian samples to Earth. In particular, it should be recognized that such a mission is likely to face intense scrutiny regarding the potential risks associated with handling in an SRF on Earth pristine martian materials that could potentially contain extraterrestrial life forms. In addition to concerns about potential biohazards, other issues may arise that are beyond the scope of science and technical realms. Such issues could encompass ethical and legal questions about extraterrestrial life, the implications of either maintaining or sterilizing martian microbes in a laboratory on Earth, and how to communicate findings to the public. All of these concerns necessitate that the public should be openly informed of planning for both a sample return mission and the construction, testing, and operation of an SRF. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The NRC’s 1997 report Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations contained a four-part recommendation relating to various aspects of the establishment and operation of an SRF. The first part concerned the need for such a facility: “A research facility for receiving, containing, and processing returned samples should be established as soon as possible after serious planning for a Mars sample-return mission has begun” (p. 5). Although the present committee supports the intent of this recommendation, it emphasizes that the initiation of planning for an SRF must also include the initiation of planning for, and development of, the activities that will take place there. Recommendation: Because of the lengthy time needed for the complex development of a sample-receiving facility (SRF) and its associated biohazard-test protocol, instrumentation, and operations, planning for an SRF should be included in the earliest phases of the Mars sample return mission. The second part of the 1997 recommendation discusses the timescale for the establishment of an SRF: “At a minimum the facility should be operational 2 years prior to the launch [of an MSR mission]” (p. 5). The phrase “2 years before launch” is ambiguous in that it could mean 2 years before launch of a Mars sample return mission from Earth or 2 years before the launch of the samples from Mars. More specificity is needed about the duration of the SRF’s running-in period and about the activities to be undertaken during that period. In addition, experience with the design, construction, and/or commissioning of new BSL-4 facilities in the United States and overseas (e.g., in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) suggests that a 2-year running-in period is too optimistic. Facilities may become “operational” at BSL-2 or BSL-3 levels 2 years after completion, but they do not become fully operational as BSL-4 facilities for several additional years. Thus, it is essential to specify that an SRF is fully operational at least 2 years prior to the return of samples to Earth. Recommendation: Construction and commissioning of a sample-receiving facility should be completed and fully operational at least 2 years prior to the return of samples to Earth, in order to allow ample time for integrated testing of the facility, the overall test protocol, and instrumentation well in advance of receiving returned martian materials.
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions The third part of the 1997 recommendation concerned the roles and responsibilities of the SRF’s staff: “The facility should be staffed by a multidisciplinary team of scientists responsible for the development and validation of procedures for detection, preliminary characterization, and containment of organisms (living, dead, or fossil) in the returned samples and for sample sterilization” (p. 5). The present committee concurs with this recommendation. Recommendation: A sample-receiving facility should employ multidisciplinary teams of scientists to develop, validate, and perform a rigorous battery of tests that will be used to determine whether and when unsterilized materials returned from Mars may be approved for controlled distribution, or full release from containment. The final part of the NRC’s 1997 recommendation concerning an SRF dealt with scientific oversight: “An advisory panel of scientists should be constituted with oversight responsibilities for the facility” (p. 5). The committee concurs with this recommendation, but in addition recommends including technical issues relating to an SRF within the oversight committee’s terms of reference. The committee’s independence should also be specified. Recommendation: An independent science and technical advisory committee should be constituted with oversight responsibilities for materials returned by a Mars sample return mission. In addition to a science and technical advisory committee for the SRF, the NRC’s 1997 Mars report saw a need for a higher-level group charged with oversight of all planetary protection requirements associated with Mars sample return: “A panel of experts, including representatives of relevant governmental and scientific bodies, should be established as soon as possible once serious planning for a Mars sample-return mission has begun, to coordinate regulatory responsibilities and to advise NASA on the implementation of planetary protection measures for sample-return missions. The panel should be in place at least 1 year prior to the establishment of the sample-receiving facility ([i.e.,] at least 3 years prior to launch)” (pp. 5-6). The present committee does not believe that this recommendation is appropriate given the potential conflicts between planetary protection concerns and scientific or operational concerns inherent in NASA’s current advisory structure. There is a critical need for the PPS, or its equivalent, and also for the office of the NASA planetary protection officer to be formally situated within NASA in a way that will allow for the verification and certification of adherence to all planetary protection requirements at each stage of a Mars sample return mission, including launch, re-entry and landing, transport to an SRF, sample testing, and sample distribution. Clear lines of accountability and authority at the appropriate levels within NASA should be established for both the PPS (or an equivalent group) and the planetary protection officer, in order to maintain accountability and avoid any conflict of interest with science and mission efforts. Recommendation: To ensure independent oversight throughout the lengthy and complex process of planning and implementing a Mars sample return mission, planetary protection policy and regulatory oversight for all aspects of sample return should be provided by both the Planetary Protection Subcommittee (or an equivalent group) and the NASA planetary protection officer, each having suitable authority and accountability at an appropriate administrative level within NASA. Finally, the NRC’s 1997 Mars report recommended that: “Throughout any sample-return program, the public should be openly informed of plans, activities, results, and associated issues” (p. 6). The present committee concurs with this recommendation and believes that it is also important to explicitly extend the policy of openness to encompass both the sample return mission and the construction, testing, and operation of an SRF. Recommendation: The public should be informed about all aspects of Mars sample return, beginning with the earliest stages of mission planning and continuing throughout construction, testing, and operation of a sample-receiving facility.
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions NOTES 1. National Research Council, Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997, pp. 30-33. 2. National Research Council, The Quarantine and Certification of Martian Samples, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2002, pp. 47-59. 3. J.H. Allton, J.R. Bagby, and P.D. Stabekis, “Lessons Learned During Apollo Lunar Sample Quarantine and Sample Curation,” Advances in Space Research 22:373-382, 1998. 4. M.S. Race, J.H. Allton, C.C. Allen, and J.Y. Richmond, “Containment Design Concepts for Extraterrestrial Sample Materials,” in Anthology of Biosafety: 1. Perspectives on Laboratory Design (J.Y. Richmond, ed.), American Biological Safety Association, Mundelein, Ill., 1999. 5. National Research Council, The Quarantine and Certification of Martian Samples, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2002. 6. J.D. Rummel, M.S. Race, D.L. DeVincenzi, P.J. Schad, P.D. Stabekis, M. Viso, and S.E. Acevedo, eds., A Draft Test Protocol for Detecting Possible Biohazards in Martian Samples Returned to Earth, NASA/CP-20-02-211842, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., 2002. 7. D.L. DeVincenzi, J. Bagby, M. Race, and J. Rummel, eds., Mars Sample Quarantine Protocol Workshop Report, NASA/CP-199-208722, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., 1999. 8. M.H. Carr, ed., Mars Sample Handling and Requirements Panel (MSHARP): Final Report, NASA/TM-199-209145, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., 1999. 9. G.J. MacPherson and the Mars Sample Return Science Steering Group, “Groundbreaking MSR: Science Requirements and Cost Estimates for a First Mars Surface Sample-return Mission,” unpublished white paper, 2002, available at http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports/index.html. 10. G.J. MacPherson and the Mars Sample Return Science Steering Group II, “The First Mars Surface Sample-return Mission: Revised Science Considerations in Light of the 2004 MER Results,” unpublished white paper, 2005, available as Appendix III of Science Priorities for Mars Sample Return, posted March 2008 by the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group at http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports/ND-SAG_Appendix_IIIpost1.doc. 11. International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, Preliminary Planning for an International Mars Sample Return Mission: Report of the International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., and European Space Agency, Paris, France, 2008. 12. Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, “Scientific Goals, Objectives, Investigations, and Priorities: 2006” (J. Grant, ed.), white paper, February 2006, available at http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/report/index.html. 13. C.R. Neal, “Issues Involved in a Martian Sample Return: Integrity Preservation and the Curation and Analysis Planning Team for Extraterrestrial Materials (CAPTEM) Position,” Journal of Geophysical Research—Planets 105(E9):22487-22506, 2000. 14. G.K. Gronvall, J. Fitzgerald, A. Chamberlain, T.V. Inglesby, and T. O’Toole, “High-containment Biodefense Research Laboratories: Meeting Report and Center Recommendations,” Biosecurity and Bioterrorism 5:75-85, 2007. 15. M.S. Race, “Evaluation of the Public Review Process and Risk Communication at High-Level Biocontainment Laboratories,” Applied Biosafety 13:45-56, 2008. 16. M.S. Race, “Planetary Protection, Biocontainment and Societal Issues: Planning for a Sample Receiving Facility for Returned Martian Materials,” presented at COSPAR General Assembly, Montreal 2008, submitted for publication in Advances in Space Research. 17. J.D. Rummel, M.S. Race, D.L. DeVincenzi, P.J. Schad, P.D. Stabekis, M. Viso, and S.E. Acevedo, eds., A Draft Test Protocol for Detecting Possible Biohazards in Martian Samples Returned to Earth, NASA/CP-20-02-211842, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., 2002. 18. International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, Preliminary Planning for an International Mars Sample Return Mission: Report of the International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., and European Space Agency, Paris, France, 2008. 19. National Research Council, The Quarantine and Certification of Martian Samples, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2002, pp. 55-56.
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Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for MARS: Sample Return Missions 20. International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, Preliminary Planning for an International Mars Sample Return Mission: Report of the International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., and European Space Agency, Paris, France, 2008. 21. See, for example, National Research Council, “Technical Input on the National Institutes of Health’s Draft Supplementary Risk Assessments and Site Suitability Analyses for the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, Boston University: A Letter Report,” The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007. 22. National Research Council, Mars Sample Return: Issues and Recommendations, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997, pp. 30-33. 23. J.D. Rummel, M.S. Race, D.L. DeVincenzi, P.J. Schad, P.D. Stabekis, M. Viso, and S.E. Acevedo, eds., A Draft Test Protocol for Detecting Possible Biohazards in Martian Samples Returned to Earth, NASA/CP-20-02-211842, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., 2002. 24. International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, Preliminary Planning for an International Mars Sample Return Mission: Report of the International Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples (iMARS) Working Group, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., and European Space Agency, Paris, France, 2008.
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