Paper No. 41-9
Presentation Time: 3:45 PM
MARS SAMPLE RETURN (MSR) SCIENCE PLANNING GROUP 2 (MSPG2): CHALLENGES AND ADVANCES IN PLANNING FOR THE FIRST SAMPLES FROM ANOTHER PLANET
The NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign seeks to establish whether life on Mars existed by retrieving samples selected and acquired using NASA’s Mars 2020 rover Perseverance. The challenges for the first samples brought from another planet include maintaining biological containment and preserving samples in pristine condition until the samples are demonstrated to meet sample safety criteria for outside distribution. ESA and NASA jointly chartered the MSR Science Planning Group 2 (MSPG2) to define the needed functionalities and design requirements for a Sample Receiving Facility (SRF). The MSPG2 produced six reports outlining 66 findings. Some of the findings and their consequences for planning include: (1) The SRF would need to provide a unique environment for MSR samples, consisting of both BSL-4 equivalent containment AND a very high level of contamination control. Substantial analyses could NOT reasonably be done by outside laboratories because they are needed for extracting the samples from the sample tubes, are needed for the Sample Safety Assessment Protocol (SSAP), are time-sensitive, are necessary for initial curation to support effective allocation to investigators, and require measurements of properties that are both time- and sterilization-sensitive. (2) The SRF would need to support competitively selected teams of investigators who would conduct a variety of studies addressing the MSR objectives. (3) As many analyses as possible should be performed in laboratories outside of the SRF to maximize opportunities for scientists from around the world to participate and contribute to “investigator-driven” MSR sample science. This is only possible once samples are deemed safe for release. Other analyses are both time-sensitive and sterilization-sensitive and would need to be carried out in the SRF. (4) The SRF would need to manage the transition to post-SRF activities, including analysis of samples outside biocontainment, and the transfer of some or all samples to one or more uncontained curation facilities.
Disclaimer: The decision to implement Mars Sample Return will not be finalized until NASA’s completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. This document is being made available for planning and information purposes only.