The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will appoint the Committee on Planetary Protection (CoPP) to operate as a long-term ad hoc committee. The disciplinary scope of CoPP includes the study of those aspects of planetary environments, the life sciences, spacecraft engineering and technology, and science policy relevant to the control of biological cross-contamination arising from the robotic spacecraft missions and the human exploration and utilization of solar system bodies. CoPP will have two primary tasks:
- To monitor progress in implementing the planetary protection guidelines associated with priority missions and programs identified in the planetary science decadal survey—Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022—and in successor planetary science decadal surveys, and other relevant reports issued by the National Academies; and
- To serve as a source of information and advice on those measures undertaken by robotic spacecraft and human exploration missions to protect the biological and environmental integrity of extraterrestrial bodies for future scientific studies and the means to preserve the integrity of Earth’s biosphere when spacecraft return potentially hazardous extraterrestrial materials to Earth.
The committee will carry out its charge at its in-person and virtual meetings by gathering evidence from experts, deliberating, and, when necessary, by preparing short assessment reports detailing progress in areas relating to NASA’s planetary protection guidelines or new scientific and technical developments. Such reports may include findings and discussion of key activities undertaken by NASA as well as the status of its actions that relate to the state of implementation of priority missions and programs.
For other advisory activities that require a more in-depth review than is possible through the normal operation of the CoPP, Space Studies Board, Board on Life Sciences, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, and NASA will negotiate a task for a separate ad hoc committee, taking advantage, as appropriate, of the expertise in the CoPP.
Through its regular meetings, the CoPP will also serve the secondary functions of:
- Providing an independent, authoritative forum for the scientific community, the federal government, international space agencies, relevant private-sector entities and organizations, and the interested public to identify and discuss emerging issues in the scientific, technical, and engineering aspects of planetary protection policies and guidelines;
- Identifying and prioritizing necessary research and development activities required to advance the development of planetary protection guidelines designed to ensure that the exploration and utilization of extraterrestrial environments is conducted responsibly; and,
- Providing a forum for interactions with the International Science Council’s Committee on Space Research and other national and international organizations through the addition of international participants when appropriate and in coordination with the SSB.
In keeping with its charge “to serve as a source of information and advice on those measures undertaken by robotic spacecraft and human exploration missions to protect the biological and environmental integrity of extraterrestrial bodies for future scientific studies….” the Committee on Planetary Protection shall draft a short report on the impact of human activities on the polar volatiles and the scientific value of protecting the surface and subsurface regions of the Earth’s Moon from organic and biological contamination. The short report should contain a clear exposition of the following:
- An overview of the current scientific understanding, value, and potential threat of organic and biological contamination to:
- Permanently shadowed regions that have scientific value in the study of the history of the solar system and its associated organic compounds,
- Research on the Moon relevant to understanding the process of prebiotic chemical evolution and the origin of life.
- Assess the likelihood that spacecraft reaching the lunar surface will transfer volatiles to polar cold traps.
- An assessment, to the degree possible, of how much and which regions of the Moon’s surface and subsurface are of sufficient scientific value to warrant protection from organic and biological contamination.