The White House released a National Planetary Protection Strategy on December 30 that outlines new assessments to prevent land pollution of other worlds and vice versa.
The National Planetary Protection StrategyDeveloped by an interagency working group led by the National Space Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), it outlines the work that needs to be done over the next year to update planetary protection policies, taking into account scientific developments as well as the growing special capabilities in space exploration.
The strategy is designed to implement part of the updated National Space Policy, issued on December 9, which calls on OSTP, in cooperation with NASA and other agencies, to develop new planetary protection guidelines “by working with scientific, commercial and international partners, to provide appropriate protection for planetary objects and Earth from biological pollution.” Harmful “.
“Current and future missions to Mars and other destinations require a strategy to support a safe, sustainable and predictable Earth and space environment,” said Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, in a statement. “By setting goals to implement the 2020 National Space Policy direction on planetary protection, this strategy continues the US leadership in scientific discovery, human exploration, and space activities for the private sector.”
Planetary Protection Strategy has three broad goals. The first is to create “risk assessment and science-based guidelines” to mitigate what is known as “advanced pollution,” or the pollution of other worlds by terrestrial life. It also directs an assessment of the role of planetary protection in the government tonnage review process for special missions.
The second goal seeks to avoid “back pollution” or the potential contamination of the Earth with any extraterrestrial life. The strategy directs agencies to develop different frameworks for assessing the risks of sample return missions and other sources of backward contamination, as well as the approval framework for such missions and procedures for the safe handling of materials returned from outside the ground.
The third goal seeks to incorporate private sector perspectives on planetary protection issues due to the growing capabilities and interest of companies in flights to other worlds, particularly Mars. This objective includes government work to develop guidelines for licensing and ongoing supervision of private sector missions to destinations with planetary protection implications.
The strategy does not define any new policy, but instead specifies work on the various issues that need to be undertaken over the next year. “It’s really a business plan,” said an administration official, speaking in the background. “It is a strategy that defines the work that will be accomplished over the next nine months to the year.”
Planet protection has been primarily an issue for NASA. The agency is updating its planetary protection policies, based on Recommendations made by an independent review board last year. In July, NASA announced that it has issued new temporary directives To reclassify most parts of the Moon into a lower category that has no planetary protection requirements, as well as study how to make planetary protection guidelines compatible with future human missions to Mars.
“We are very fine for what NASA has done,” the administration official said, “but the problem is that NASA’s rules and temporary directives don’t really apply to the private sector.” The strategy follows what the official described as a “light touch” approach to any planetary protection systems for special missions. “We are trying to find ways so that people can move forward, but to do it safely.”
The strategy also seeks to benefit from the expertise of other agencies. The interagency working group included several departments at the cabinet level, from agriculture, health and human services to commerce and the state. It also included the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, among others.
Many of them were brought in to support work on backward pollution. “It’s a great opportunity to bring in departments and agencies that may not have worked together on this issue historically,” said a management official, “but they’re very excited to do it now.”
“There is no real reason for astronauts to reinvent the wheel,” an official added, “There is a lot of wonderful experiences.”
The planetary protection strategy is part of the surge in space policy activity by the White House in the final weeks of the Trump administration. In addition to the updated national space policy, The White House released a space nuclear strategy on December 16Prioritizing nuclear power development and propulsion capabilities and related policy issues.