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NASA Awards SETI Institute Contract for Planetary Protection

NASA Awards SETI Institute Contract for Planetary Protection

View from the ISS

July 10, 2020, Washington D.C. and Mountain View, CA – NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection (OPP) has awarded the SETI Institute with the contract to support all phases of current and future missions to ensure compliance with planetary protection standards. The SETI Institute will work with OPP to provide technical reviews and recommendations, validate biological cleanliness on flight projects, provide training for NASA and NASA partners, develop guidelines for implementation of NASA requirements, and disseminate information to stakeholders and the public. The contract is effective July 1, 2020.

“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,” said Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute.  “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.”

The role of the OPP is to promote responsible exploration of the solar system by protecting both Earth and mission destinations, from biological contamination. Planetary protection preserves environments, as well as the science, ensuring verifiable scientific exploration for extraterrestrial life. Some of the upcoming science missions that will be supported by this contract include: Mars 2020, Europa Clipper and preparations for Mars Sample Return. In addition, upcoming major programs in the human exploration portfolio such as Artemis, Gateway, HLS (Human Lander System) and the CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program will also be supported under this contract, as part of NASA’s Moon to Mars strategy for future crewed exploration of the solar system.

“The depth of mission experience and breadth of knowledge on the SETI Institute team will help NASA meet the technical challenges of assuring forward and backward planetary protection on the anticipated path of human exploration from the Moon to Mars,” said Lisa Pratt, Planetary Protection Officer at NASA Headquarters.

The SETI Institute has worked with NASA on planetary protection initiatives for over a decade developing a core competency and independent support role in Planetary Protection. In addition to having a long history of supporting OPP on planetary protection flight projects including Mars Science Laboratory, InSight and Mars 2020, the SETI Institute’s core mission is the search for life beyond Earth. SETI Institute scientists have extensive experience in understanding microbial life, how to recognize it, how to manage it, how it can survive, even in the extreme conditions of spaceflight and extraterrestrial environments. The SETI Institute has also been deeply involved on science teams for many NASA missions including the Kepler space telescope, Curiosity, New Horizons, OSIRIS-REx, Hubble, and more.

“As the interest in exploratory missions broadens every day, it is important that needed Planetary Protection information, approaches and training are available to both government and commercial stakeholders,” said Amy Baker, SETI Institute project lead. “Through this award, the SETI Institute is being asked to continue to provide critical planetary protection training and to develop additional outreach tools to support the understanding and engagement of planetary protection end-users.

The people of Earth are increasingly venturing into space, not only on missions governed by space agencies, but with projects run in conjunction with, and even wholly by, the commercial sector. As a result, implementing effective and consistent planetary protection standards is more important than ever. The SETI Institute is committed to advancing exploration and scientific discovery for the benefit of humanity and beyond.

Download full press release here.

About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the Universe and to share that knowledge with the world. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

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