Review and Assessment of
PLANETARY PROTECTION POLICY
Committee on the Review of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes
Space Studies Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
A Consensus Study Report of
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Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25172
Cover: Designed by Kimberly De Rose. Background: Curiosity rover during a global dust storm that enveloped Mars in 2018, courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, and Malin Space Science Systems. Top: Artist’s conception of space probe landing on the surface of Titan with Saturn in the background, courtesy of NASA and artist Craig Attebery. Center, right: Curiosity rover during testing in a clean room, courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech. Center, left: Preparing one of the Viking lander for dry-heat microbial reduction in a custom-built oven at the NASA Kennedy Space Center, courtesy of NASA. Bottom: Apollo 11 astronauts in NASA’s mobile quarantine facility aboard the U.S.S. Hornet following their return to Earth in July 1969, courtesy of NASA.
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25172.
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COMMITTEE ON THE REVIEW OF PLANETARY PROTECTION POLICY DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES
JOSEPH K. ALEXANDER, Alexander Space Policy Consultants, Chair
JOHN R. CASANI, NAE,1 Jet Propulsion Laboratory (retired)
LEROY CHIAO, OneOrbit, LLC
DAVID P. FIDLER, Indiana University
JOANNE GABRYNOWICZ, University of Mississippi
G. SCOTT HUBBARD, Stanford University
EUGENE H. LEVY, Rice University
NORINE E. NOONAN, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
KENNETH OLDEN, NAM,2 Environmental Protection Agency (retired)
FRANCOIS RAULIN, Université de Paris-Est Créteil
GARY RUVKUN, NAS3/NAM, Massachusetts General Hospital
MARK P. SAUNDERS, Independent Consultant
BETH A. SIMMONS, NAS, University of Pennsylvania
PERICLES D. STABEKIS, Independent Consultant
ANDREW STEELE, Carnegie Institution for Science
DAVID H. SMITH, Study Director
MIA BROWN, Research Associate
ANDREA REBHOLZ, Program Coordinator
DANIELLE MONTECALVO, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
1 Member, National Academy of Engineering.
2 Member, National Academy of Medicine.
3 Member, National Academy of Sciences.
SPACE STUDIES BOARD
FIONA HARRISON, NAS,1 California Institute of Technology, Chair
JAMES H. CROCKER, NAE,2 Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (retired), Vice Chair
GREGORY P. ASNER, NAS, Carnegie Institution for Science
JEFF M. BINGHAM, Consultant
ADAM S. BURROWS, NAS, Princeton University
MARY LYNNE DITTMAR, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration
JEFF DOZIER, University of California, Santa Barbara
JOSEPH FULLER JR., Futron Corporation (retired)
SARAH GIBSON, National Center for Atmospheric Research
VICTORIA HAMILTON, Southwest Research Institute
CHRYSSA KOUVELIOTOU, NAS, George Washington University
DENNIS P. LETTENMAIER, NAE, University of California, Los Angeles
ROSALY M. LOPES, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
STEPHEN J. MACKWELL, Universities Space Research Association
DAVID J. McCOMAS, Princeton University
LARRY PAXTON, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
ELIOT QUATAERT, University of California, Berkeley
BARBARA SHERWOOD LOLLAR, University of Toronto
HARLAN E. SPENCE, University of New Hampshire
MARK H. THIEMENS, NAS, University of California, San Diego
ERIKA WAGNER, Blue Origin
PAUL WOOSTER, Space Exploration Technologies
EDWARD L. WRIGHT, NAS, University of California, Los Angeles
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director of Space and Aeronautics (through February 2018)
RICHARD ROWBERG, Acting Director of Space and Aeronautics (March to August 2018)
COLLEEN HARTMAN, Director of Space and Aeronautics (from August 2018)
CARMELA J. CHAMBERLAIN, Administrative Coordinator
TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations
CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate
MARGARET KNEMEYER, Financial Officer
ANTHONY BRYANT, Financial Assistant
1 Member, National Academy of Sciences.
2 Member, National Academy of Engineering.
Planetary protection is the practice of protecting solar system bodies (i.e., planets, moons, comets, and asteroids) from contamination by Earth life in order to preserve the opportunity for scientific studies at those destinations relating to the origins of life and/or prebiotic chemical evolution, and of protecting Earth’s inhabitants and environment from harm that could be caused by possible extraterrestrial life forms. The 1967 United Nations “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Bodies” (the Outer Space Treaty [OST]) to which the United States and most other spacefaring nations are signatory, states in Article IX that all states parties to the treaty “shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination, and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter.” In addition, Article VI of the same treaty specifies that states parties “shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities.”
Internationally, technical aspects of planetary protection are developed through deliberations by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), part of the International Council for Science (ICSU), which consults with the United Nations as required. The international consensus guidelines for planetary protection are developed through the deliberations of the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection, which are regularly undertaken on the basis of participants either reporting new scientific findings with policy implications (e.g., water being more abundant at a particular target than was previously recognized), and/or raising questions regarding specific concerns that may need to be to be addressed (e.g., new activities in space exploration that could affect policy compliance). The Panel develops recommendations that COSPAR may adopt for inclusion into the official COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy. Through this process, the COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy has evolved steadily and incrementally over the years since it was initially created. Spacefaring organizations such as NASA formulate and implement planetary protection policies and procedures for their space missions to be consistent with COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy.
In recent years there have been significant developments related to the exploration of planetary environments. There have been major advances in the state of scientific knowledge regarding the environments of solar system destinations thought to be capable of having harbored life or thought to be capable of currently harboring life. Scientific understanding has also evolved regarding the nature of life on Earth in environments that are thought to be analogous to some of those expected at solar system destinations. In addition, there have been advances in
the technology available to reduce microbial populations on spacecraft and to measure various levels of biological cleanliness. Meanwhile, NASA’s priorities have evolved in two directions: First, to place special emphasis on robotic exploration of the so-called Ocean Worlds (i.e., a subset of the moons of the giant planets and other bodies of the outer solar system known [or strongly suspected] to have liquid water beneath their icy surfaces), especially, but not limited to, Europa and Enceladus, moons of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively; and second, to planning for sample return missions classified as “restricted Earth return” (which have not been undertaken since Apollo) and the human exploration of Mars. A range of other nations and non-state actors also have expressed an intent to send spacecraft and humans to Mars in the coming years. Can planetary protection policy evolve to accommodate this changing landscape in order to remain effective in addressing the challenges posed by Article IX, and now also Article VI, of the OST?
In response to the evolving landscape against which planetary protection policies operate, NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, John M. Grunsfeld, requested in February 2016 that the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine carry out a study of the current process by which planetary protection policy is developed and recommend actions or options for NASA to consider in ensuring effective coordination on planetary protection (see Appendix A). Subsequent discussions between the SSB and Dr. Grunsfeld’s successor, Thomas H. Zurbuchen, resulted in the formulation of a somewhat expanded statement of task for the requested study:
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will appoint an ad hoc committee to carry out a study that will describe how international and national planetary protection policy has been formulated and adopted and identify associated lessons to inform future policy development. Specifically, the committee will assess the current state of planetary protection policy development, and the extent to which the current policy-making process is responsive to the present state of science, technology, and engineering, including biological science, as well as the exploration interests of state and non-state actors. The committee’s review will lead to recommendations on how to assure the planetary protection policy process is supportive of future scientific and societal interests, as well as spaceflight missions.
It is suggested that the committee organize its review around three themes:
- Historical context and the current policy development process—including a working definition of planetary protection and its goals;
- Key factors in the current policy development process; and
- The future of the policy development process.
Historical Context and the Current Policy Development Process—including a working definition of planetary protection and its goals
In addressing this theme, the committee should consider the following questions and formulate lessons learned where appropriate:
- How has the planetary protection policy development process evolved over the course of lunar and planetary exploration? What approaches to planetary protection policy development were used in the Apollo and Viking eras of solar system exploration, and subsequent Mars exploration? What factors informed and drove those choices?
- What worthwhile lessons can policymakers take from the history of planetary protection policy development in looking toward future exploration and sample return missions?
- Who are the actors involved in the present-day planetary protection policy development process? What are the respective roles and responsibilities of international organizations, national organizations and national space agencies (including agencies’ planetary protection officers), advisory committees, and others in the process?
- What scientific, technical, philosophical, and/or ethical assumptions and values about the importance of avoiding forward contamination of extraterrestrial planetary environments are prioritized in the current planetary protection policy development process?
- What scientific, technical, philosophical, and ethical assumptions and values about the importance of
protecting Earth and its environment (“backward contamination”) are prioritized in the current planetary protection policy development process?
- How does the current process take into account new scientific and technical knowledge?
- How does the state of scientific understanding of planetary environments and their ability to harbor life inform the current planetary protection policy development process? What scientific knowledge or exploration interests are not taken into account?
- How does the current planetary protection policy development process balance interest in acquiring scientific knowledge of planetary environments to inform future scientific studies, exploration, and planetary protection policy choices with the interest in protecting those environments in the here-and-now?
Key Factors in the Current Policy Development Process
In addressing this theme, the committee should consider the following questions and formulate recommendations as appropriate:
- To what extent does the current process consider the interests of state and non-state actors in exploring planetary environments, including obligations under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty?
- How does the current process reconcile uncertainties in knowledge, differences between scientific and other exploration interests, as well as potentially competing interests?
- What are the barriers, or challenges, that inhibit the process of effective planetary protection policy development?
The Future of the Policy Development Process
Looking at both historical and contemporary approaches to planetary protection policy development, the committee should make recommendations about the future of planetary protection policy process development in relation to these questions:
- How could the planetary protection policy development process be made more adaptable to the evolving landscape of knowledge about and myriad interests in planetary environments?
- How can a planetary protection regulatory environment in the U.S. government be established and evolve to keep pace with nongovernmental spacefaring entities?
- How does a future process evaluate the state of the art and what technologies are required to ensure compliance with planetary protection policy for future missions?
- What risk assessment and/or quality control principles should be applied to ensure that a future process takes into account our understanding of the capabilities of Earth organisms and the potential for extraterrestrial life to be encountered by planetary missions?
Furthermore, Dr. Zurbuchen requested that the portion of the statement of task’s first theme concerning “a working definition of planetary protection and its goals” be addressed in an interim report.
In response to the requests from Drs. Grunsfeld and Zurbuchen, the SSB established the Committee on the Review of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes, which held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 7-9, 2017. The meeting was devoted to Dr. Zurbuchen’s request for an interim report addressing the definition of planetary protection and its goals. The draft interim report was sent to eight external reviewers for comment on April 21 and delivered to NASA on June 7.
The committee held three additional meetings—in Washington, D.C.; Irvine, California; and Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on May 23-25, June 27-29, and August 8-10, respectively—and an initial draft of the complete report was assembled in the final months of 2017 and the first few months of 2018. A complete draft of this report was sent to external reviewers for comment on April 27. This report was revised in response to reviewer comments and submitted for final approval to the National Academies Report Review Committee on June 14 and approved for release on June 18, 2018.
The work of the committee was made easier thanks to important contributions made by the following individuals: William Ailor (The Aerospace Corporation), Gale Allen (NASA Headquarters), David Bearden (The
Aerospace Corporation), David Beaty (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Benjamin Berlin (Federal Aviation Administration), Linda Billings (National Institute of Aerospace), Charles Philip Brinkman (Federal Aviation Administration), Alicia Brown (Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology), Jonathan K. Charlton (Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), Kelvin Coleman (Federal Aviation Administration), Catharine Conley (NASA Headquarters), Brian Cooke (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Nicholas Cummings (Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology), Rick Davis (NASA Headquarters), Mary Lynne Dittmar (Coalition for Deep Space Exploration), Meredith Drosback (SciLine), G. Ryan Faith (Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), Kenneth Farley (California Institute of Technology), Barry Goldstein (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Tom Hammond (Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), Ken Hodgkins (Department of State), Robert Hubbard III (Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), Margaret Kieffer (NASA Headquarters), Gerhard Kminek (European Space Agency), Jer-Chyi Liou (NASA Johnson Space Center), Eric Mahr (The Aerospace Corporation), Aarti Matthews (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), Andrew Maynard (Arizona State University), Michael Meyer (NASA Headquarters), Vince Michaud (NASA Headquarters), Michael Mineiro (Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), James Muncy (PoliSpace), George Nield (Federal Aviation Administration), Ryan Noble (Commercial Spaceflight Federation), Russell Norman (House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), Bill Nye (The Planetary Society), Aaron Oosterle (PoliSpace), Scott Pace (National Space Council), J.D. Polk (NASA Headquarters), Betsy Pugel (NASA Headquarters), Benjamin Roberts (Moon Express), John Rummel (SETI Institute), Caryn Schenewerk (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), Mitchell Sogin (Marine Biological Laboratory), Ellen Stofan (Smithsonian Institution), Anne Sweet (NASA Headquarters), Pamela Whitney (Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), Paul Wooster (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), A. Thomas Young (Lockheed Martin Corporation, retired), and Thomas Zurbuchen (NASA Headquarters).
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: George Church (Harvard Medical School), Athena Coustenis (Paris Observatory), Robert Crippen (Thiokol Propulsion, retired), Lennard Fisk (University of Michigan), Steve Isakowitz (The Aerospace Corporation), Christopher Johnson (Secure World Foundation), Charles Kennel (University of California, San Diego), B. Gentry Lee (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Jonathan Lunine (Cornell University), Dava Newman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Robie Samanta Roy (Lockheed Martin Corporation), and Gerhard Schwehm (European Space Agency, retired).
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Steven J. Battel (Battel Engineering, Inc.). He was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.