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Planetary Protection Knowledge Gaps for Human Extraterrestrial Missions: Report on Workshop Findings

Margaret Race
Human Exploration & Destination Drivers
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Abstract Text: 

Current COSPAR international planetary protection (PP) policy for human missions to Mars includes only qualitative principles and guidelines , which provide insufficient scientific and technological knowledge to establish detailed quantitative requirements for planning and development of crewed spacecraft and missions beyond Earth orbit. To address important knowledge gaps, the NASA Policy on Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Extraterrestrial Missions (NPI 8020.7) was created, outlining a stepwise, multi-element plan leading to development of future procedural requirements. An important step in the path forward was convening a workshop focused on three themes of relevance to PP: 1) Microbial and Human Health Monitoring; 2) Technology and Operations for Contamination Control; and 3) Natural Transport of Contamination on Mars.

This presentation reports the findings of the workshop on Planetary Protection Knowledge Gaps for Human Extraterrestrial Missions held at NASA Ames Research Center, March 24-26, 2015, and attended by over 100 participants from diverse science, engineering, technology and policy areas. The workshop objective was to capture the current state of knowledge in the 3 key areas and identify future R&TD needed to inform PP requirements for future Mars human exploration and to help define the initial set of PP procedural requirements (NPR). Future studies will likely involve experts from diverse science/technology fields and include R&TD efforts on Earth as well as on missions to varied solar system bodies.
The workshop combined plenary tutorial sessions and submitted papers, along with break-out group deliberations to identify 25 specific knowledge gaps across the three thematic areas of importance as summarized below.
The sub-group on Microbial and Human Health Monitoring identified nine specific knowledge gaps related to microbial and human health monitoring, six of which related to microbial research per se (monitoring, collection and data processing in situ etc); another gap focused on the need for low-toxicity disinfectants and methods to control biofilms; and two other gaps related to biomedical and human health considerations.
The sub-group on Technology & Operations for Contamination Control identified eight knowledge gaps involving technology and operations for mitigating and controlling contamination—both microbial and organic. Six of the eight gaps centered on mission related questions, including implications of mission duration; escape of viable microbes; understanding of what vents from different hardware; and containment, decontamination and veritifcation needs for both PP and science considerations. Another gap included the need for information on technologies for mitigation, avoidance, and contamination control for varied systems and mission elements. A final gap related to ‘special regions’, in situ resource utilization (ISRU); operational strategies; and sample containment technologies.
The Subgroup on Natural Transport of Contamination on Mars, identified eight knowledge gaps. Four gaps centered on the need for better modeling and understanding of Martian aeolian processes and their role as potential dispersal mechanisms for dissemination of microbial and other contaminants. Three additional gaps dealt with hardy terrestrial microbes and their monitoring. A final gap centered on the need to understand the nature of leaked and vented materials from pressurized containers or infrastructure elements.

"Giampiero Esposito...
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Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators at a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts."