NASA, SpaceX, International Space Station, Moon How NASA scientists are protecting Mars from contamination with Perseverance
. Thank you for joining us yeah. Thank you so much for having me, of course, and now we’re as we’re getting closer and closer to this landing. How are you feeling, as someone who’s worked so closely with the mission i i’m, as you can expect very excited, um it’s it’s, like different chapters? In a book i mean we were extremely excited, especially during the launch period, but now that it’s landing this is yet another part of history being cemented um, so yeah i’m just extremely excited and ready for the science to start absolutely so you are the lead planetary Protection engineer for those who might not know what is planetary protection and what does your job look like with mars? 2020 yeah planetary protection is kind of twofold and i love to equate it to going to a national park where there’s the leave no trace policy right. When we go and we explore different planets to include mars, we want to make sure that we’re not bringing any microbial hitchhikers with us that may contaminate the surface of mars or may affect our science and then the second part is eventually we hope to bring these Samples back so we want to make sure that we protect our own earth’s biosphere from any inadvertent contamination to absolutely so, specifically with perseverance, it’s, no secret, that one of the main goals of the mission is to search for signs of life on mars. So i assume that your job would be more important than ever with this mission, as we don’t want to risk contaminating those samples yeah exactly and the thing is i mean similarly with robotics once it leaves earth your job is done so everything that i and my Team have done to ensure that these containers are clean, that’s going to acquire these samples it’s already done, there’s, nothing more.
I can do actually so yeah. We worked so hard to to make sure that it was all assembled clean, tested and launched in a clean manner. Absolutely so you mentioned before kind of the two sides of planetary protection. They both don’t, bring anything extra but also don’t bring anything extra home. Now you know we can look back to the apollo days and they were concerned with astronauts coming home with moon, bugs um and we’re clearly past that, but especially seeing as this is a mission looking for signs of life on mars. What does that look like in terms of bringing that those capsules home eventually with the second half of this mission? Yeah? Well, the the conversations are ongoing and it’s far above my head right because it’s in order to bring the samples back there’s an international collaboration in the works not only nasa, but the european space agency and other government agencies need to be on board to make sure It’S done in a safe manner and that’s the number one priority. There are going to be a lot of checkpoints and, if it doesn’t meet that safety checkpoint it’s not coming back so at least even though the conversations are ongoing, we could all be assured that everyone’s trying to get this done in the best way possible in the Safest way possible, absolutely so obviously you know mars. 2020 is a nasa mission. How do other agencies and companies like spacex are boeing? Do they have to adhere to the same planetary protection guidelines and and rules kind of set by things like the outer space treaty, or do different agencies and people have different rules? Yeah, that’s, a really great question, and and because the united states is a signatory, uh.
Private companies do have to abide by planetary protection rules. The thing that made it a little bit more difficult to abide by it is, you know, with nasa. Our goal is to have the best science possible to do the right thing: um and it’s. Not we don’t really focus on the profit, the profitability of having a return sample, and, understandably with a private entity, you have to make sure that things are accessible monetarily and so yes, they are, they have to abide by the same rules and on the flip side, We have to do a good job in making sure that it’s accessible monetarily to those companies who really can’t afford a steep uh science project per se. Absolutely so you said that you know pretty much because the spacecraft it is. It is well on its way and set to land that your job is kind of done in terms of ensuring the the planetary protection safety of of the craft and the mission and its science objectives. So i assume that at this point you can really be excited about about the science and the mission and i’m curious. What are you most excited about with mars 2020, with perseverance, with all the amazing science that’s going on and going to happen yeah? This is such a difficult question because there are so many things to be excited about no pressure, no pressure, yeah. There are so many answers. For example, the prospect of sending humans to mars is going to be that much more achievable because we have moxie there that’s.
Turning the co2 into oxygen for fuel and for for breathing air um, i think my favorite thing is the sampling and caching system, which is the whole suite of instruments from the robotic arm and the interior to the robotic arm on the exterior, the coring drill. All of the parts that need to work together to acquire that piece of chalk sized core is going to be my most exciting part. That i’m, looking forward to a lot of my friends, work on the sampling and caching system and work on the test bed to make sure that this is done in the right way and i’m just excited for that first sample to be collected. Absolutely so. You mentioned crude human missions to mars. Obviously, planetary protection will look a lot different for an uncrewed, robotic mission versus a crude mission. What kind of challenges do you anticipate and are you already working on those challenges with future crude missions to the red planet? Yeah there’s? The the landscape of planetary protection definitely changes once humans go there. We, i like to say we’re more microbes than than humans, if you count the amount of microbes on and in our body, it’s more uh than we have human cells. So we we are a um, a nice petri dish. If one were to summarize it as something um so yeah it, the landscape would change um and yeah. It would definitely require more conversations, especially on the international scale, um, to really make sure that we do this.
In a right way, so that we kind of try to contain the amount of contamination that humans bring to mars when they explore it, so yeah there’s still more more decisions that need to be made. But yes, it will change absolutely so i just have one more question for you, but thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. I know everyone is really really excited about this mission yeah. So i think that, as we continue to launch robotic missions to mars um, i mean there are three just this month, perseverance being just one of the craft to land at mars in february. I think a lot of people who might not be in the space sector or be scientists. They might wonder. Why are we doing this? Why are we going to mars? Why are we exploring another planet? Why don’t, we just continue exploring earth. Why are we going to all this trouble and i’m curious as a scientist as an engineer how you would answer that question yeah, and i would say that that is an extremely valid question and there are multiple reasons why we would explore our closest neighbor. First of all, it’s it used to be habitable that’s what the curiosity rover did confirm scientifically. So we need to understand what happened and can whatever happened to mars. Also happened to earth so it’s a really great case study to understand um, maybe in is there may have been an impact in the past that threw everything off whatever it may be.
We need to make sure that we understand it, so it will help us inadvertently. We’Re, you know a little bit selfish. Of course we can explore, but it does have benefits for for earth, not only that a lot of the technology that is developed to do this kind of space exploration, directly benefits people on earth and allows us to do better exploration of nooks and crannies and deep Oceans here on our own planet, so it’s not mutually exclusive, absolutely well! Thank you. So much moo it’s been really wonderful kind of hearing about your journey and the side of the story, and i cannot wait for percy to land on mars, yeah february 18th. Let’S all watch together awesome. Thank you so so much i really appreciate it. Thank you.