NASA wants to take humans to the Moon and Mars - but not their germs

NASA has detailed its plan to prevent contamination of space caused by human activities. According to the space agency's Administrator Jim Bridenstine, NASA's newly published Interim Directives (NIDs) will cover both manned and robotic missions to Mars, as well as anticipated future manned missions to Mars. A day after announcing these new NIDs, NASA has awarded a related contract to SETI Institute of California.

On July 9, NASA released its two new NIDs, explaining that it wants to safeguard space to, among other things, preserve future scientific missions that may otherwise be disrupted by contamination. The first NID covers robotic and manned missions involving the Moon; the second involves manned missions to Mars.

The first (NID 8715.128) aims to protect against biological contamination, while the second (NID 8715.129) reforms the space agency's past policies to use data gathered by the Artemis mission to help prevent biological contamination in future Mars missions. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained:

It's vital that NASA's regulations remain synchronized with our capabilities and plans. This NID will enable the human exploration of Mars, creating new opportunities for awe-inspiring science and innovative commercial activities. I believe science and human exploration are complimentary endeavors and I'm excited to see these policy reforms open up a new era of discovery.

In its update today, July 10, NASA said that it has awarded a related contract to SETI Institute, tasking it with offering planetary protection support. Under this contract, the SETI Institute and the Office of Planetary Protection will work together on training, guidelines, validated biological cleanliness, and more.

In its own statement, SETI Institute said:

As we return to the Moon, look for evidence of past or present life on Mars and continue our missions of exploration and discovery in the solar system, planetary protection becomes an increasingly important component of mission planning and execution. We are proud to be NASA's partner for this mission-critical function, protecting Earth from backward contamination, and helping ensure that the life we may find on other worlds, didn't come from our own.