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IG Audit: NASA Planetary Program Faces Major Financial, Managerial Challenges
Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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  • September 16, 2020
New Planetary Protection Board to Review Guidelines for Future Solar System and Beyond Exploration

From its perch high on a ridge, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below. The view looks back at the rover’s tracks leading up the north-facing slope of “Knudsen Ridge,” which forms part of the southern edge of “Marathon Valley.” (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Following National Academy of Sciences recommendations, advice from the NASA Advisory Council, and subsequent unanimous agreement from NASA’s science leadership, the agency has established an independent Planetary Protection Review Board to review established guidelines for planetary protection and recommend any updates that are required. Planetary protection policies are designed to protect solar system bodies from contamination by Earth life, and to protect Earth from possible harm from potential biological sources beyond our planet.


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  • April 30, 2019
NASA Makes Progress Toward Science Priorities Outlined in 2013-2022 Planetary Decadal Survey

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) – Despite significant cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science Division budget early in this decade, the space agency has made impressive progress in meeting goals outlined in the 2013-2022 planetary decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies.

The report notes that the agency met or exceeded the decadal survey’s recommendations for funding research and analysis, and for technology programs. However, NASA has not achieved the recommended timeline for New Frontiers and Discovery missions for the decade. At least one more New Frontiers mission and three Discovery missions should be selected before the end of the decade in order to achieve the schedule recommended in Vision and Voyages.

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  • August 12, 2018
National Academies’ Recommendations to NASA on Planetary Protection

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
June 2018

Full Report

Findings & Recommendations

Recommendation 3.1

Finding: In connection with Mars sample return, planetary protection requirements for the sample containment, verification of containment, return vehicle and sample receiving facility are not yet in place.

Recommendation 3.1: NASA’s process for developing planetary protection policy for sample return missions should include early consultation with mission developers and managers, mission and receiving facility science teams, and microbiologists and include providing a means to use the best available biological and technological knowledge about back contamination and containment.

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  • July 3, 2018