The Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA) recently named Elaine Seasly as the deputy Planetary Protection Officer. In this role, she will be supporting the Office of Planetary Protection in its efforts to promote the responsible exploration of the solar system by implementing and developing efforts that protect the science, explored environments and Earth.
Seasly joins OSMA after serving as the NASA Langley Research Center contamination control and Planetary Protection lead since 2015.
“I’m coming very much from the engineering side, [so] my role is to be kind of the engineering side of the equation and offer up the engineering voice,” said Seasly. “Planetary Protection has a lot of folks with a microbiology background and science background; I offer up a different background, but with a complimentary skillset.”
As contamination control and Planetary Protection lead, Seasly was responsible for developing contamination control and Planetary Protection requirements and implementation plans and evaluating compliance of flight projects to meet NASA mission needs. In addition, she developed and led the growth strategy for Langley contamination control and Planetary Protection to increase facility capabilities, research opportunities, flight project support, knowledge management and lessons learned sharing, and collaboration through partnerships. Prior to joining NASA, she worked for Raytheon Missile Systems, where she led contamination control efforts for missile defense and tactical missile programs and later transitioned to program management and management of small business innovation research.
Seasly has valued working with the scientists, researchers and engineers at Langley and looks forward to expanding that network agencywide and beyond to learn new perspectives.
“All my NASA experience has been at Langley Research Center,” she explained. “You’re always sort of focused on your center and center goals. I’m looking forward to the bigger, broader NASA picture in this role and working with all the field centers. I’m really looking forward to getting to know and working with the other NASA centers, and also the expansion of working with industry and academia.”
Seasly is also looking forward to increasing communication about Planetary Protection and why it’s essential to both NASA scientific missions and human spaceflight.
“I’m hoping that people start to gain a better understanding of Planetary Protection and what it’s about and am looking to increase communication and collaboration,” she said. “A single organization cannot do it alone.”
With a growing interest in Mars, she feels this is an exciting time to be a part of the spaceflight process. She hopes to help define the Planetary Protection strategy for approaching these groundbreaking missions. While a lot of public interest is focused on when humans will go to Mars, the agency’s next step with regards to the red planet is actually a Mars sample return mission.
“Everybody is always curious when we are going to have human on Mars,” said Seasly. “That’s a huge challenge because of where we are at currently in time. We’re talking about the first sample returns. We’re still working that issue out, so to go from that leap to humans living and working on Mars — that’s a huge system architecture to have in place in this life time.”
Although the first manned mission to Mars may be decades out, Seasly feels that it’s essential to get the Planetary Protection architecture for such missions in place much sooner and points out, timelines aside, NASA does still have the mission of getting astronauts into space and home safely:
“It sounds far off, but it’s really not when you look at the amount of tech innovation and development that has to happen,” she said. “I see that as a huge challenge for Planetary Protection. How are we going to do our science and the human aspect of it as well? We have to start today. We have to start addressing these issues and thinking them through. It’s coming and it’s not that far away in the grand scheme of things.”
With exciting challenges and missions ahead, Seasly is ready to get started.
“I’m a life-long learner,” she said. “There is no textbook on Planetary Protection — we have to write that book. It’s working with and learning from all the engineers and scientists. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Seasly will be located at NASA Headquarters, and her new role is effective Jan. 22, 2019.
Seasly obtained her Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering at the University of Arizona, her Master of Science in patent law at the University of Notre Dame and her Doctor of Engineering at George Washington University. She is also a registered patent agent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.