common problems prior to the receipt of the lunar samples. During preliminary study of those samples, serious problems were encountered, including repeated compromises of quarantine (Bagby, 1975). Many of these problems could have been prevented had the science team and the receiving laboratory been operational well before receipt of the samples.
To avoid similar problems during the initial investigation of samples returned from Mars, and to provide sufficient time to develop and validate the requisite life detection, containment, and sterilization procedures, the science team and receiving facility should be established as soon as possible once serious planning for a sample-return mission has begun. At a minimum, the facility should be operational at least two years prior to launch.
Recommendation. A research facility for receiving, containing, and processing returned samples should be established as soon as possible once serious planning for a Mars sample-return mission has begun. At a minimum, the facility should be operational at least two years prior to launch. 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 returned samples and for sample sterilization. An advisory panel of scientists should be constituted with oversight responsibilities for the facility.
To meet its responsibilities, the sample-receiving, containment, and research facility should include an appropriately stringent biological containment capability and be staffed by a broadly multidisciplinary team of scientists with expertise in, for example, effective containment of microbes, analysis and curation of geological and biological samples (Gooding, 1990), microbial paleontology and evolution, field ecology and laboratory culture, cell and molecular biology, organic and light stable isotope geochemistry, petrology, mineralogy, and martian geology.
Although NASA has developed extensive plans for a Mars sample-receiving facility (Townsend, 1990), no facility meeting all the requirements currently exists. No NASA center has the required equipment or experience in high-level biological containment. Other governmental organizations, such as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have expertise in biological containment but may lack expertise in the biology of nonpathogenic microbes, microbial paleontology, and the relevant aspects of geology and geochemistry. The staff of the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) has some of the required expertise in biology, and the staff of the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) has some of the required expertise