Assessment of the Report
of NASA’s Planetary Protection
Independent Review Board
Committee to Review the Report of the
NASA Planetary Protection Independent Review Board
Space Studies Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
A Consensus Study Report of
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Assessment of the Report of NASA’s Planetary Protection Independent Review Board. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25773.
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COMMITTEE TO REVIEW THE REPORT OF THE NASA PLANETARY PROTECTION INDEPENDENT REVIEW BOARD
JOSEPH ALEXANDER, Alexander Space Policy Consultants, Chair
DAVID FIDLER, Washington University School of Law and Council on Foreign Relations
G. SCOTT HUBBARD, Stanford University
ROSALY LOPES, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
MARGARITA MARINOVA, Independent consultant
H. JAY MELOSH, NAS,1 Purdue University
KIRSTEN SIEBACH, Rice University
CAROLINE SMITH, Natural History Museum, London
TRISTA VICK-MAJORS, Michigan Technological University
A. THOMAS YOUNG, NAE,2 Lockheed Martin (Retired)
DAVID H. SMITH, Senior Program Officer, Study Director
MIA BROWN, Research Associate
GAYBRIELLE HOLBERT, Program Assistant
JORDAN McKAIG, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
OSASE OMORUYI, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
COLLEEN N. HARTMAN, Director, Space Studies Board
1 Member, National Academy of Sciences.
2 Member, National Academy of Engineering.
SPACE STUDIES BOARD
MARGARET G. KIVELSON, NAS,1 University of California, Los Angeles, Chair
JAMES H. CROCKER, NAE,2 Lockheed Martin (retired), Vice Chair
GREGORY P. ASNER, NAS, Carnegie Institution for Science
JEFF M. BINGHAM, Consultant
ADAM BURROWS, NAS, Princeton University
MARY LYNNE DITTMAR, Dittmar Associates
JEFF DOZIER, University of California, Santa Barbara
VICTORIA E. 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, American Institute of Physics
DAVID J. McCOMAS, Princeton University
LARRY PAXTON, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
ELIOT QUATAERT, University of California, Berkeley
MARK SAUNDERS, NASA (retired)
BARBARA SHERWOOD LOLLAR, University of Toronto
HOWARD SINGER, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
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
COLLEEN N. HARTMAN, Director
TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations
CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate
MARGARET A. KNEMEYER, Financial Officer
RADAKA LIGHTFOOT, Financial Associate
1 Member, National Academy of Sciences.
2 Member, National Academy of Engineering.
On August 16, 2019, Thomas H. Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate wrote to Margaret Kivelson, chair of the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, informing her that recent reviews by the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and the National Academies—specifically Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes1 (hereinafter the “2018 report”)—have raised concerns as to whether the consensus planetary protection guidelines maintained by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) were being outpaced by advances in science and technology (see Appendix A). Through planetary protection policies, all major spacefaring nations since the dawn of the Space Age attempt to minimize, if not preclude, the biological cross-contamination of planetary bodies, including Earth.
As a result of these concerns, Associate Administrator Zurbuchen announced he had chartered a group of experts—the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB)—“to update COSPAR’s guidelines on biological contamination” (see Appendix A). Dr. Zurbuchen noted that the report of the PPIRB2 would be completed by September 2019 and requested that the SSB undertake the task to review the work of the PPIRB. Subsequent discussions between NASA and the National Academies agreed that the requested review would address the following statement of task:
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will establish an ad hoc committee to review the findings of the PPIRB report and comment on their consistency with the recommendations of the recent report, Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes.
In response to NASA’s request, the National Academies established the Committee to Review the Report of the NASA Planetary Protection Independent Review Board in early November. The committee held meetings in 2019 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., on November 20-22, and at the Beckman Center in Irvine, California, on December 16-17. A subgroup of the committee’s members held a writing meeting at the
1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018.
2 Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, NASA Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB): Report to NASA/SMD: Final Report, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2019, https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/planetary_protection_board_report_20191018.pdf.
headquarters of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, on January 20-21, 2020, and a complete draft of the report was sent to external reviewers on February 14. The report was revised in response to reviewer comments in March and approved for public release on March 26.
Although the statement of task called for the committee to “review the findings” of the PPIRB report and “comment on their consistency with the recommendations” of the 2018 report, the committee interpreted its charge to mean that it was to review the findings and recommendations of the PPIRB report for consistency with the findings and recommendations of the 2018 report. In cases where the PPIRB report considered issues not addressed in the 2018 report, the committee drew on other reports from the National Academies, briefings to the committee, or other publicly available information to assess consistency with the content of the 2018 report or to determine whether the committee agreed with the PPIRB’s conclusions.
The work of the committee was assisted by many important inputs made by the following individuals: C. Philip Brinkman (Federal Aviation Administration), T. Jens Feeley (NASA Headquarters), Lori Glaze (NASA Headquarters), Christopher Johnson (Secure World Foundation), Michael Meyer (NASA Headquarters), Michael New (NASA Headquarters), Lisa Pratt (NASA Headquarters), Benjamin Roberts (Moon Express), Andrew Spry (SETI Institute), S. Alan Stern (Southwest Research Institute), Ryan Whitley (National Space Council), and Thomas H. Zurbuchen (NASA Headquarters).
The committee reserves special thanks to Jennifer Vaughn and James Bell, respectively, the chief operating officer and president of the Planetary Society, for making their Pasadena headquarters available for the committee’s use during its January 2020 writing meeting.
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 institutional standards for 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: Jerome Apt III (Carnegie Mellon University), Bethany Ehlmann (California Institute of Technology), Dan Hendrickson (Astrobotic), Brian Israel (University of California, Berkeley), James Kasting (NAS, Pennsylvania State University), Robert Lindberg (independent consultant, Williamsburg, Virginia), Jonathan I. Lunine (NAS, Cornell University), Melissa A. McGrath (SETI Institute), Eric Rignot (NAS, University of California, Irvine).
Although the reviewers listed above have 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 Battel (NAE, 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 of the report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.