NPR 8715.24 Updates Agency’s Approach to Planetary Protection

NPR 8715.24 Updates Agency’s Approach to Planetary Protection

2-minute read
Mars 2020

NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA) recently released NPR 8715.24, Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions, effective Sept. 24, 2021. The new NASA Procedural Requirement (NPR) covers the agency’s new paradigm and overall approach to Planetary Protection and takes the place of the now cancelled NPR 8020.12D, Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions to integrate Planetary Protection.

The release of NPR 8715.24 follows the reorganization of the Office of Planetary Protection (OPP) that moved the office from the Science Mission Directorate to OSMA a few years ago. As a result of the move, OSMA revised NPR 8020.12D while it continued working the new NPR 8715.24. Changes to NPR 8020.12D, and consequently NPR 8715.24, integrated Planetary Protection into the existing NASA management structure (project management, Systems Engineering, Safety and Mission Assurance, etc.). During this initial revision process, the OPP also streamlined and clarified Planetary Protection requirements, as recommended by the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board report.

“While this NPR and upcoming standard have been several years in the works, it was important to get it right,” said J. Nick Benardini, NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer. “The NPR provides more clarity on the Planetary Protection process by defining roles and requirements that align the Planetary Protection discipline with the NASA Systems Engineering process.”

NASA's Planetary Protection policies and requirements ensure safe and verifiable scientific exploration for evidence of extant extraterrestrial life, prebiotic chemistry and origins of life. The main purpose of the new NPR is to define the roles and responsibilities for

  • Protecting solar system bodies from harmful contamination by terrestrial materials to enable scientific exploration (forward contamination)
  • Preventing potentially harmful consequences for humans and the Earth’s environment due to the return of extraterrestrial samples (backward contamination)

These requirements are guided by “COSPAR Policy on Planetary Protection,” informed by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on Planetary Protection, and leverage current scientific consensus throughout the project life cycle. Notably, the NPR focuses on flexibility and innovation supported by data and timely communications to validate new methods, approaches and processes to enable missions.  

Major changes in NPR 8715.24 include

  • Parsing the old NPR 8010.12D into the NPR 8715.24 and an upcoming NASA standard to achieve compliance
  • Restructuring the way that missions are categorized in that the mission proposes the category, OPP concurs and the Mission Directorate assigns the category
  • Structuring Planetary Protection documentation to have a requirements document and responsive implementation plan, thereby removing the Planetary Protection plan.

Questions about the policy or its updates can be directed to Benardini.


Planetary Protection engineers wipe sampling Europa Clipper’s propulsion module. Image Credit: John Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman. 

Mars 2020 

Mars 2020 in a cleanroom to prevent biological recontamination. Image Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.