The best-laid plans are only as effective as their implementation. It will be necessary to verify that all planetary protection measures are properly carried out throughout the mission, including curation and possible distribution of sample material. Formal administrative oversight is required to avoid the lapses in quarantine and handling that occurred during lunar sample-return missions (Bagby, 1975). Such administrative oversight should be sufficiently removed from mission efforts to maintain an independent perspective and avoid conflicts of interest. NASA should ensure that planetary protection oversight is incorporated into mission planning as early as possible and that it includes identification and conduct of the research and technology development required to properly implement planetary protection measures. Clear lines of authority and accountability should be established within NASA to ensure proper implementation of planetary protection measures.
Recommendation. An administrative structure should be established within NASA to verify and certify adherence to planetary protection requirements at each critical stage of a sample-return mission, including launch, reentry, and sample distribution.
Since the return of lunar samples, significant changes have occurred in the public decision-making realm. New laws, most notably the National Environmental Policy Act, and more open review processes allow for citizen involvement in nearly all aspects of governmental decision making. Technical and scientific decisions about mission hardware and operations, while still made by groups of experts, are now scrutinized by other governmental bodies, the general public, advocacy groups, and the media. The array of environmental, health, and safety laws enacted during the past several decades provides ample opportunity for public involvement, including legal challenges, in many parts of the decision-making process that were previously conducted in private.
In light of the public's past response to other controversies involving science and technology issues, it is possible that environmental and quality-of-life issues will be raised in the context of a Mars sample-return mission. If so, it is possible that the adequacy of planned planetary protection measures will be questioned in depth. The public will need accurate and timely information in order to be appropriately informed about planning and implementation of planetary protection measures during sample-return missions. It is essential that NASA acknowledge the public's legitimate interest in and concern regarding planetary protection from the outset, keeping it fully informed and involved throughout the decision-making process and subsequent implementation.
Recommendation. Throughout any sample-return program, the public should be openly informed of plans, activities, results, and associated issues.