Planetary Protection

Planetary Protection Implementation and Verification Approach for the Mars 2020 Mission

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 11, 2023
Filed under ,
Planetary Protection Implementation and Verification Approach for the Mars 2020 Mission
The bit carousel, which lies at the heart of Sample Caching System of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, is attached to the front end of the rover in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility’s High Bay 1 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The carousel contains all of the tools the coring drill uses to sample the Martian surface and is the gateway for the samples to move into the rover for assessment and processing. Credits: NASA

The Perseverance rover was successfully delivered to Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. Among its science objectives, Perseverance is meant to search for rocks that are capable of preserving chemical traces of ancient life, if it existed, and to core and cache rock and regolith samples. The Perseverance rover is gathering samples for potential return to Earth as part of a Mars Sample Return campaign.

Thus, controlling the presence of Earth-sourced biological contamination is important to protect the integrity of the scientific results as well as to comply with international treaty and NASA requirements governing Planetary Protection prior to launch. An unprecedented campaign of sampling and environmental monitoring occurred, which resulted in over 16,000 biological samples collected throughout spacecraft assembly.

Engineering design, microbial reduction measures, monitoring, and process controls enabled the mission to limit the total spore bioburden to 3.73 × 105 spores, which provided 25.4% margin against the required limit. Furthermore, the total spore bioburden of all landed hardware was 3.86 × 104, which provided 87% margin against the required limit. This manuscript outlines the Planetary Protection implementation approach and verification methodologies applied to the Mars 2020 flight system and its surrounding environments.

Moogega Cooper, Fei Chen, Lisa Guan, Akemi A Hinzer, Gayane Kazarians, Cynthia Ly, Timothy B Shirey , Kristina Stott

PMID: 37405744 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2022.0046


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻