National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC 20546-0001
MAY 2 0 2010
Reply to Attn ofSMD/Planetary Science Division
Dr. Charles F. Kennel
Space Studies Board
National Research Council
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Dr. Kennel:
In accordance with international treaty obligations, NASA maintains a planetary protection policy to avoid biological contamination of other worlds, as well as to avoid the potential for harmful effects on the Earth due to the return of extraterrestrial materials by spaceflight missions. NASA Policy Directive 8020.7 requires that planetary protection requirements be based on recommendations from both internal and external advisory groups, but most notably the Space Studies Board (SSB). NASA relies on the Board’s ability to synthesize input from a wide spectrum of the science community and provide expert advice and recommendations, both as an advisory body and as the U.S. representative to the International Council for Science’s Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), which is consultative to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. As such, the SSB’s recommendations on planetary protection are internationally recognized as authoritative and independent of NASA.
In 2000, the SSB published a report entitled Preventing the Forward Contamination of Europa that provided advice regarding approaches for avoiding contamination by Earth life of subsurface oceans on Europa. Interest in exploring Europa and other icy bodies in the outer solar system has increased within both NASA and the international space exploration community, stimulated by data collected from current missions, as well as the recognition that international collaborative missions have the potential to provide scientific returns significantly greater than is possible with missions by individual space agencies. As NASA prepares for these future collaborative missions, it would be very helpful for the SSB to review the findings of the 2000 Europa report and incorporate conclusions from a series of recent workshops on planetary protection for icy bodies sponsored by COSPAR, in which it was determined that the probabilistic approach for regulating contamination of icy bodies should be retained to accommodate the wide range of objects for which requirements must be set. Ideally, this study would update and expand previous SSB recommendations to cover, as much as is currently feasible, the entire range of icy bodies in the outer solar system (asteroids, satellites, Kuiper-Belt Objects, comets) in light of current scientific understanding and ongoing improvements in mission-enabling capabilities and technologies.