Workshop on Planetary Protection Knowledge Gaps for Human Extraterrestrial Missions (Intro)

reposted from

I’m at a NASA Ames workshop this week. The goal is to have a discussion about planetary protection with respect to human spaceflight, in particular to Mars, mostly during a “sample and return” mission and a little bit about human habitation on Mars.

I’m tweeting with #planetaryprotection. There’s also live streaming here:

The broad goal of planetary protection is to make sure that we don’t contaminate the universe with our Earth stuff and vice versa, forward and reverse contamination, respectively. The first half of the first day was an exhaustive review of previous workshops on the subject. The reports are available here. James Johnson conducted an extensive literature review, which will soon be published in Advances in Space Research Special Issue: New Challenges for Planetary Protection, so keep an eye out for that. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was also brought up by many times. Apparently (according to Cassie Conley) if you can decipher the language, Article IX indicates that the “highest priority for planetary protection is to protect the Earth.” Of course, planetary protection was a concern during the Apollo missions to the moon, but the protections (especially with respect to reverse contamination) were pretty flimsy. They splashdown in the ocean, change into a new suit, hop into a helicopter, get paraded past hundreds of people, and then enter quarantine for 21 days.


At some point, it was decided that there was no life on the moon, so reverse contamination dropped off the radar. As far as forward contamination is concerned, well, there not just flags and golf balls, but also many, many bags of trash and human waste sitting on the surface of the moon right now.

The second half of the first day consisted of talks on the subject of Microbial and Human Health Monitoring. I’ll post about those later.

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Jenna Lang

Jenna Lang is a postdoctorate associate in Jonathan Eisen's lab and studies the seagrass microbiome.