NASA implements changes to planetary Security policies for moon and Mars missions


Artemis astronauts
The brand new directives remove any planetary protection requirements for future assignments going to all the moon, with the exception of the polar regions. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — NASA announced July 9 two new directives regarding planetary security for missions to the moon and Mars that apply recommendations of an independent review board last year.

The two directives, declared by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a”Moon Dialogs” webinar, are a part of an attempt by NASA to modernize guidelines that are decades old and the agency considers could hinder its long-term human exploration programs.

The directives reveal”the way NASA has evolved on its thinking as it pertains to forwards and backward damaging biological contamination on the surface of the skies also, of course, on Mars,” Bridenstine said.

The first of what are formally known as NASA Interim Directives revises planetary protection classification of this moon. Mission to the moon was in Category 2, which necessitated assignments to record any substances on board but place them with no cleanliness standards. Worries spacecraft can contaminate water ice at the lunar poles drove that classification.

Under the new directive, the majority of the moon is going to be placed in Category 1, which imposes no requirements on assignments. The exceptions will be the polar regions — north of 86 degrees north latitude and south of 79 degrees south latitude — which will remain in Category 2. Regions around Apollo landing”and other historic sites” are also in Category two, primarily to protect biological substances left behind by the crewed Apollo landings.

“NASA is altering its thinking on how we’re going to proceed into the skies,” Bridenstine said. “Certain areas of the moon, from a scientific standpoint, have to be protected over other parts of the moon from forward biological contamination”

The second directive addresses future human missions to Mars, a world with considerably greater planetary protection requirements. Those requirements include placing limitations on the level of contamination that many have contended are incompatible with human assignments.

“We can’t go to Mars with people if the principle that we’re alive by is that we can’t have some microbial substances with us, because that is just not possible,” Bridenstine explained.

The Mars directive does not change the planetary protection requirements for assignments to that planet, but instead calls for research for how to achieve that. These studies vary from study that may be done to sending a precursor robotic mission to a location near the projected landing page for the crewed mission to measure what materials are found.

“NASA will create risk-informed decision making implementation strategies for human missions to Mars, which accounts for and balance the requirements of human space exploration, science, industrial activities, and security,” the directive states.

This campaign, Bridenstine said, would be a long-lasting process that will require more changes to policies in the future. “As we learn more, we are going to need to keep on making adjustments,” he said.

The two directives implement a few of the recommendations of the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, which published a report last October calling for modernization of planetary protection protocols. Among its recommendations was reclassifying much of the moon from Category 2 to Category 1, in addition to for NASA to create planetary security guidelines for future Mars missions.

“Planetary protection hasn’t had a look under the hood in a bottoms-up evaluation in something such as 40 years,” Alan Stern, the scientist who chaired that separate inspection, said at a panel discussion after Bridenstine’s remarks. “So much has changed in that time in so many locations.”

The NASA directives apply to the agency’s own assignments in addition to the ones in which the agency participates in certain way, such as joint assignments with other agencies or business missions where NASA is a client. It doesn’t apply, however, to missions by strictly or area agencies commercial assignments.

“There are NASA’s interim directives, but what NASA does has a huge influence on the private sector,” contended Mike Gold, acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations in NASA, through the panel discussion. “We’ve got to establish the ideal precedent. The [directives] we put forward today will demonstrate a route for the private sector.”

The directives also don’t influence international planetary protection guidelines maintained by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). However, last autumn when the independent review board’s report was released, president of COSPAR, folks such as Len Fisk, said they anticipated the recommended modifications to finally be approved by COSPAR.

One space law specialist said that approach ought to be sufficient. “It is an evolving process,” said Tanja Masson-Zwaan, deputy director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University. Nations have been systematically implementing these guidelines for a long time, she mentioned, as a means of adhering to the Outer Space Treaty’s requirement to avoid”harmful contamination” of celestial bodies.

She rejected in the panel discussion the idea of a new international company to oversee planetary security. “In pragmatic terms, this isn’t something which will take place, but I also don’t think it is necessary.”

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