Planetary Protection

Planetary Protection is the practice of protecting solar system bodies from contamination by Earth life and protecting Earth from possible life forms that may be returned from other solar system bodies. NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection promotes the responsible exploration of the solar system by implementing and developing efforts that protect the science, explored environments and Earth. 

NASA's Planetary Protection policies and requirements ensure safe and verifiable scientific exploration for extraterrestrial life. The main objectives are to

  • Carefully control forward contamination of other worlds by terrestrial organisms and organic materials carried by spacecraft in order to guarantee the integrity of the search and study of extraterrestrial life, if it exists.
  • Rigorously preclude backward contamination of Earth by extraterrestrial life or bioactive molecules in returned samples from habitable worlds in order to prevent potentially harmful consequences for humans and the Earth’s biosphere.

To accomplish these goals, the Office of Planetary Protection assists in the construction of sterile (or low biological burden) spacecraft, the development of flight plans that protect planetary bodies of interest, the development of plans to protect the Earth from returned extraterrestrial samples, and the formulation and application of space policy as it applies to Planetary Protection.

Planetary Protection works in conjunction with solar system mission planners in order to ensure compliance with NASA policy and international agreements. Ultimately, the objective of Planetary Protection is to support the scientific study of chemical evolution and the origins of life in the solar system.

Additional information regarding Planetary Protection can be found on the Committee on Space Research website

Planetary Protection History

  • NPR 8715.24 Updates Agency’s Approach to Planetary Protection

    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. 

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  • COSPAR Updates Planetary Protection Policy for Lunar Missions

    Recently, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) updated its Planetary Protection policy for the Moon, including adding Category II sub-designations to accommodate missions to different regions. The new Category IIa and IIb designations reflect the importance of the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) to science and the Artemis generation of human exploration.

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  • NASA Announces New Planetary Protection Officer

    NASA named Dr. J. Nick Benardini as the agency Planetary Protection Officer within the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, effective June 7.

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  • Ingenuity Helicopter to Take Flight in April

    The Mars Ingenuity Helicopter will take its first steps toward demonstrating powered flight in the Martian atmosphere, with a first attempt at a powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet scheduled for no earlier than April 8, 2021. The helicopter rode to Mars in the Perseverance Rover's belly pan and will be deployed for flight testing from the red planet's surface in April. 

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  • Mars Perseverance Rover Set to Land on the Red Planet Feb. 18

    The Mars 2020 mission, including the Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity Helicopter, will land on Mars on February 18, 2021. A first on a Mars mission, the Sample Caching System included on Perseverance will collect and store short cores of Martian rocks and soils destined for future return to Earth and study with advanced instrumentation. The system is complex, including a drill for sample collection and tubes to seal and store the collected samples until a future mission can retrieve them.  

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People

Benardini

Dr. J. Nick Benardini

Planetary Protection Officer

Learn more about Planetary Protection Officer Dr. J. Nick Benardini.

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Points of Contact

For details on contacting a Planetary Protection Point of Contact (PoC), click below.

Find Your PoC

Learning

Instructor-Led Courses

Planetary Protection: Policies and Practices

This course covers what the requirements are for Planetary Protection for robotic missions, how to meet those requirements and lessons learned from past missions.

Course Details

Policy and Guidance

NASA

Policy Title Buttons Buttons
NID 8715.129
Biological Planetary Protection for Human Missions to Mars
NID 8715.129 Details See NID 8715.129
NASA-HDBK-6022

Handbook for the Microbial Examination of Space Hardware

NASA-HDBK-6022 Details See NASA-HDBK-6022
NPD 8020.7 Biological Contamination Control for Outbound and Inbound Planetary Spacecraft NPD 8020.7 Details See NPD 8020.7
NPR 8715.24 Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions
NPR 8715.24 Details See NPR 8715.24
NPR 8020.12 Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions NPR 8020.12 Details See NPR 8020.12

International Policy

Planetary Protection is an agreed international practice that is defined by the United Nations; promulgated by the Committee on Space Research; and practiced by space-faring agencies such as NASA, the European Space Agency, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and others.

Missions

Planetary Protection requirements are specific to the type of mission and explored planetary bodies. Accordingly, NASA assigns each mission a Planetary Protection Category based on the type of planned encounter (e.g., flyby, orbiter or lander) and the type of planetary bodies that are encountered and explored during the mission (e.g., planet, moon, comet or asteroid). In general, the Planetary Protection Categories (Categories I-V) are organized to reflect the degree a target (or encountered) planetary body may provide clues regarding life or prebiotic chemical evolution and can be further refined through planetary target and type of mission. When exploring a target body that may provide clues to the process of chemical evolution and/or the origin of life, spacecraft will have a higher level of cleanliness, with the mission providing detailed operating procedures. When exploring a target body that potentially supports Earth life, spacecraft will undergo stringent cleaning and sterilization processes and may be subject to certain operating restrictions. Planetary Protection requirements and mission categories are based on the scientific advice of the Space Studies Board and on NASA or international policy guidelines.

Category Planetary Body Mission Mission Status
Sun Ulysses  Completed
II Sun Solar Orbiter Collaboration Planning Phase
II Jupiter Galileo Completed
II Jupiter Juno Ongoing
II Jupiter/Saturn Pioneer 10 and 11 Completed
II Jupiter/Saturn/Heliosheath Voyager Ongoing
II Mercury (Venus fly-by) MESSENGER Completed
II Moon Chandrayaan-1/ISRO (M3)  Completed
II Comets Tempel 1 & Hartley 2 Deep Impact/EPOXI Ongoing
II Moon Clementine Completed
II Moon Grail Completed
II Moon LADEE Completed
II Moon Lunar Prospector Completed
II Moon Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Ongoing
II Moon Ranger 1-9 Completed
II Moon Surveyor  Completed
II Pluto/Charon New Horizons Ongoing
II Saturn Cassini-Huygens Completed
II Comets Encke, Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 and d'Arrest. CONTOUR Failed
II Asteroid Eros NEAR-Shoemaker Completed
II Venus Magellan Completed
II Venus Pioneer-Venus Completed
II 1 Moon Chang'e-3/CNSA Ongoing
III Mars Mars Express/ESA (ASPERA-3) Ongoing
III Mars Viking 1-2 Orbiters Completed
III Asteroids Vesta & Ceres (Mars flyby) Dawn Ongoing
III Europa Europa Clipper Planning Phase
III Mercury, Venus, Mars Mariner Missions Completed
III Mars Mars Climate Orbiter Failed
III Mars MAVEN Ongoing
III Mars Mars Global Surveyor Completed
III Mars Mars Observer Failed
III Mars Mars Odyssey Ongoing
III Mars Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Ongoing
III (II-comet) Comet C-G, Asteroid Lutetia Rosetta  Ongoing
III (II-comet) Comet Borrelly Deep Space 1 Completed
III (TGO), IVa (EDM) Mars ExoMars 2016/ESA: Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Entry, Descent, and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) Ongoing
III 1 Mars Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan)/ISRO Ongoing
III 1 Mars Mars Orbiter Mission/ISRO Ongoing
IVa Mars Deep Space 2 Failed
IVa Mars Mars Pathfinder Completed
IVa Mars Mars Polar Lander Failed
IVa Mars Mars Science Laboratory Ongoing
IVa Mars MER Opportunity  Ongoing
IVa Mars MER Spirit  Completed
IVa Mars InSight Ongoing
IVb Mars ExoMars 2020/ESA Planning Phase
IVb Mars Viking 1-2 Landers Completed
IVc Mars Mars Phoenix Lander Completed
V (restricted) Moon Apollo 11, 12, 14 Completed
V (restricted) Mars Mars 2020 Planning Phase
V (unrestricted) Asteroid 25143 Itokawa Hayabusa/JAXA  Completed
V (unrestricted) Asteroid 1999 JU3 Hayabusa 2/JAXA Ongoing
V (unrestricted) Asteroid 1999 RQ36 OSIRIS-REx Ongoing
V (unrestricted) Comets Wild 2 & Tempel 1 Stardust NExT Completed
V (unrestricted) Heliosphere Genesis Completed
V (unrestricted) Moon Apollo 15-17 Completed

Mission Categories

Protecting Life on Other Bodies

Planetary Protection requirements for each mission and target body are determined based on the scientific advice of the Space Studies Board and on NASA or international policy guidelines. Each mission is categorized according to the type of encounter it will have (e.g., flyby, orbiter or lander) and the nature of its destination (e.g., a planet, moon, comet or asteroid). If the target body has the potential to provide clues about life or prebiotic chemical evolution, a spacecraft going there must meet a higher level of cleanliness and some operating restrictions will be imposed. Spacecraft going to target bodies with the potential to support Earth life must undergo stringent cleaning and sterilization processes and greater operating restrictions.

Mission Design and Planning

Compliance with Planetary Protection requirements is mandatory for NASA missions, per NPD 8020.7, Biological Contamination Control for Outbound and Inbound Planetary Spacecraft. The first and most important step in complying with NASA Planetary Protection policy is avoiding unintended encounters with solar system objects. As described in NPR 8020.12, Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions, missions must meet a certain set of forward contamination criteria including

  • Limiting the probability that a planetary body will be contaminated during the period of exploration to no more than 1×10 -3 (unless otherwise specified), where the period of exploration shall extend at least 50 years after a Category III or IV   mission arrives at its protected target (and no longer than the time point after which no organisms remain viable on the spacecraft)
  • Avoiding impact of Mars over a time period of 50 years with a probability of < 1×10 -2 for spacecraft that cross the orbit of Mars en route to other targets and < 1×10 -4 for all launch elements that leave Earth’s orbit
  • Avoiding impact of target bodies, including orbital lifetime constraints
  • Minimizing the probability of contamination using mission-dependent pre- and post-launch approaches, such as cleanroom usage, aseptic assembly of spacecraft, partial sterilization of spacecraft components and trajectory biasing.

Careful mission design and planning are essential elements when considering Planetary Protection requirements, which are both mission and target body dependent. Consultations with the Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) during mission development is critical in ensuring compliance with NASA policy. 

Mission Gallery

View the Mission Gallery for photos of NASA programs and projects that are implementing or have implemented Planetary Protection requirements. 

See Gallery 

Conference Documents

Conference/Event Date Description Agenda Report
4th COSPAR (Virtual) Workshop on Refining Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Missions
5/19/20-5/20/20 Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Workshop

See 2020 Report
3rd COSPAR Workshop on Refining Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Missions
5/14/19-5/16/19 Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Workshop
  See 2019 Report
2nd COSPAR Workshop on Refining Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Missions 5/15/18-5/16/18 Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Workshop   See 2018 Report
Refining Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Missions 10/25/16-10/27/16 Committee on Space Research Workshop, cosponsored by the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
  See 2016 Report
Planetary Protection Knowledge Gaps for Human Extraterrestrial Missions 3/24/15-3/26/15 NASA workshop, cosponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
  See 2015 Report

Solar System Bodies

Solar system bodies for which NASA has considered Planetary Protection precautions include Venus; Earth; Earth’s moon; Mars; Jupiter; Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (moons of Jupiter); Titan and Enceladus (moons of Saturn); comets, and asteroids.

Additional Information

Explore 

Looking for educational resources related to Planetary Protection? Visit the Explore page. New resources will continue to be added. 

Visit Explore Page

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Planetary Protection is the practice of protecting solar system bodies from harmful contamination by Earth life to enable scientific exploration (forward contamination) and protecting the Earth-Moon system from possible harmful contamination that may be returned from other solar system bodies (backward contamination). Recognizing the Outer Space Treaty, which has been signed and ratified by 110 countries, the goals of Planetary Protection are to

    • Protect solar system bodies from biological contamination from Earth
    • Prevent harm to Earth’s environment from possible harmful extraterrestrial contamination
    • Support safe, sustainable exploration of chemical evolution and the origins of life

    NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection works with mission teams to ensure compliance with NASA policy and international agreements by assisting with

    • Construction of biologically managed (or low biological burden) spacecraft
    • Development of flight plans that protect planetary bodies of interest to the search for life
    • Development of plans to protect the Earth-Moon system from samples returned from extraterrestrial bodies
    • Formulation and application of space policy as it pertains to Planetary Protection
  • Planetary Protection makes it possible for scientists to study extraterrestrial environments without interfering with any extant or existing life that may have developed there. It also preserves the integrity of scientific research conducted in those environments. Finally, Planetary Protection preserves Earth’s biosphere from possible contamination by harmful extraterrestrial material.
  • The first mission to use Planetary Protection recommendations from the United Nations Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) was the Ranger project, a series of unmanned spacecraft in the 1960s whose objective was to take close-up images of the Moon. In 1967, the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom were the first nations to sign the Outer Space Treaty, which is the legal framework for space exploration. The first article of the Outer Space Treaty reads,

    “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.”

    NASA formed its Office of Planetary Protection in 1976, however, it was already shaping mission policy based on COSPAR recommendations before that time.

  • Forward contamination: The transfer of viable organisms, including microorganisms, from Earth to another celestial body.

    Planetary Protection requirements to control forward contamination begin on Earth and are accomplished by understanding mission science, operational requirements and goals based upon the environmental characteristics of each planetary destination. Forward Planetary Protection requirements protect the integrity of science exploration, including the search for and study of potential extraterrestrial life. 

    All missions leaving Earth are evaluated for impact from forward contamination.

    Backward contamination: The transfer of extraterrestrial organisms, if they exist, to Earth’s biosphere.

    Spacecraft carrying samples back to Earth pose a risk of unintended transfer of extraterrestrial life. Backward Planetary Protection requirements are needed to assure safety for Earth’s environment and responsible scientific study once extraterrestrial samples are landed on Earth and transferred to a receiving facility. 

    Extraterrestrial materials from planetary destinations with the possibility of supporting life are considered potentially harmful to humans and Earth’s biosphere until scientific study in a biologically secure laboratory can establish that there is no evidence of extraterrestrial life in the samples. 

    Only missions bringing material back to Earth are evaluated for harm to Earth from backward contamination.

  • All spacecraft such as orbiters, landers and rovers must be built in cleanrooms that meet International Organization for Standardization specifications for particulate control and air flow as well as gowning protocols for protective clothing. 

    Planetary Protection requires workers to wear full cleanroom garments. These include head coverings, coveralls and shoe covers. Workers wear these garments over their street clothes to prevent contaminants such as clothing fibers and hair and skin particles from entering the cleanroom and potentially transferring to sensitive spaceflight hardware. 

    Planetary Protection also requires clean assembly practices, as well as preventing recontamination on flight hardware up to the last time of access prior to launch.

    NASA uses multiple cleaning methods to reduce the number of viable organisms on a spacecraft and vaporize chemical remnants of terrestrial biology. Dry Heat Microbial Reduction is a process that heats hardware under controlled humidity, temperature and time conditions. This method not only kills microbes on the surface or encapsulated within hardware, but the heating process can bake off organic molecules from hardware surface. 

    If spacecraft parts or scientific instruments are susceptible to damage from heating, then there are other methods for microbial reduction, such as exposure to vapor hydrogen peroxide or ultraviolet light. Each cleaning method has benefits and drawbacks to be considered when deciding on the best approach. 

    Exposed hardware surfaces are cleaned during the assemble process by alcohol wiping. Alcohol does not destroy bacterial spores in general, rather, they are removed by the mechanical action of physical cleaning. Hardware is wiped clean before final assembly and installation. Workers routinely wipe down flight hardware surfaces that remain accessible to maintain cleanliness. 

    Finally, ground support equipment is subject to rigorous cleaning and testing for biological cleanliness throughout the assembly process.

  • Cleanrooms are cleaned every day using several chemical solvents. It is a continuous practice. Once the room has been cleaned, the team goes back to begin cleaning again. In addition, cleanrooms have robust air filtration systems that filter air multiple times before returning to the room, with filters changed on a regular basis. The air flow changes in NASA’s cleanrooms for biologically sensitive hardware can be up to 350 per hour using an industrial Ultra-Low Particulate or High-Efficiency Particulate Air filtration system as per ISO 14644-1 Cleanroom Standards. This is compared to a house where the air flow changes only four to eight times per hour using a residential HVAC system with a variety of filter ratings removing large particles, allergens and bacteria based on the homeowners’ filter selection.

  • There are different mission categories that determine the Planetary Protection requirements for each mission. Based upon Committee on Space Research recommendations, Planetary Protection categorizes each planetary body reflecting its importance in the search for evidence of fossil life, present-day life or prebiotic chemical evolution.

    The three worlds that have the highest scientific interest in possible extraterrestrial life carry the strictest exploration requirements for Planetary Protection and are Mars, Europa and Enceladus. A mission to these worlds is either Category III (flyby/orbiter) or Category IV (lander).

    Any spacecraft going beyond Earth orbit and then returning to Earth is classified Category V (Earth Return). If a spacecraft has landed on or near Mars, Europa or Enceladus, then the returning leg of the mission is considered Restricted Earth Return. Restricted Earth Return requirements assure safety for Earth’s environment and responsible scientific study of returned hardware and samples. Sample retrieval missions will be designed to contain the sample prior to return to Earth, where they will be examined under quarantine and confirmed safe or completely sterilized prior to distribution to science laboratories. 

    For most other destinations in the solar system, a returning mission is categorized as Unrestricted Earth Return.

  • Planetary Protection is an agreed international practice that is defined by the United Nations and its Committee on Space Research. Space-faring agencies that implement Planetary Protection policies include the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and others.

  • The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) was established October 1958 with the objective of promoting international guidelines for scientific research in space and emphasizing the exchange of results, information and opinions. 

    The Outer Space Treaty (OST) was signed on Jan. 27, 1967, in Washington D.C., London and Moscow. It now has 110 states-parties. It includes 17 Articles that provide the legal framework for space exploration. 

    Based upon new scientific discoveries and exploratory capabilities, COSPAR provides accepted international guidelines and policy standards for compliance with the OST. Overall, there have been over 50 years of international collaboration in space exploration policy.

  • All commercial space companies that partner with NASA on missions must work in compliance with Planetary Protection requirements. All policies, guidelines and mission requirements are publicly available to commercial space companies.

  • NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection is responsible for ensuring that all NASA missions, along with their contracted commercial partners, follow Planetary Protection requirements.

    Since NASA is not a regulatory agency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for any U.S. payload launch made from a commercial requestor not directly sponsored by NASA. During the FAA pre-application consultation and license application process, if a mission is determined to need a Planetary Protection consultation, NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection is engaged. Technical leads within the Office of Planetary Protection will review any provided material from the commercial requestor. The initial assessment is made based on the payload and additional payload propulsive capabilities to leave the Earth orbit. A more detailed assessment of the payload is then conducted with the specific areas of interest to include

    • Description of the energetic potential of the primary launch vehicle, second stage, cruise stage and additional independent propulsion systems on primary and secondary payloads
    • Description of trajectory including flybys or gravity assists of celestial objects and orbital insertion or landing at the destination
    • Assessment of biological contamination risk and associated mitigation strategy for celestial objects, along the trajectory and at the orbiting or landed destination
    • For missions to the surface of the Moon, an inventory of propulsion products released into the lunar environment; additionally, for missions to Permanently Shadowed Regions or the lunar poles, an inventory of organics

    The initial assessment and detailed areas of interest are then directly used to evaluate the potential impacts for harmful contamination under the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (U.N., 1967), Article IX. The technical assessment is then provided to the FAA for further consideration as part of the pre-application consultation and license application process. 

  • The number of microbes on the surface of a spacecraft is called its bioburden. A part of a spacecraft (usually a square meter) is sampled by using a wipe or a swab. The collected sample is then analyzed in a culture dish, and the number of bacterial colonies are measured. This will give an estimate of the number of bacteria per square meter of surface. If the bioburden exceeds the Planetary protection limit, then the spacecraft is recleaned and retested.

    The most important type of microbe to consider is an endospore (or “spore”), which is a type of bacteria that can enter a dormant, protective state and survive even in the vacuum of space. The bioburden limit for a Mars rover is just 300 spores per square meter of the rover’s surface.

  • We have not yet discovered whether there is life beyond Earth. All currently known forms of life, microbial or otherwise, exists on Earth. Any known microbes (so far) that are on Mars have been carried there from Earth by human spacecraft!

  • Any spacecraft going beyond Earth orbit and then returning to Earth is classified Category V (Earth Return). If a spacecraft has landed on or near Mars, Europa or Enceladus, then the returning leg of the mission is considered Restricted Earth Return. Restricted Earth Return requirements assure safety for Earth’s environment and responsible scientific study of returned hardware and samples. Sample retrieval missions will be designed to contain the sample prior to its return to Earth, where they will be examined under quarantine and confirmed safe or sterilized prior to distribution to science laboratories.

  • As the search for life beyond Earth advances, Planetary Protection requirements are modified to reflect new scientific knowledge about the diversity of life on Earth and the detection capabilities of advanced instruments. 

    Historically, Earth’s Moon has not been considered significant from a biological perspective in the search for life. As a result, it was categorized by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) as a Category I body with no Planetary Protection requirements warranted.

    Since the time of the Apollo missions, ice deposits located in the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) of the Moon have been detected. In 2008, COSPAR updated the Moon to a Category II body with significant interest relative to chemical and biological evolution of the solar system but with minimal risk of contamination during exploration.

    More recently, because the existence of water at the lunar poles of the Moon provides a potential resource for future human exploration, COSPAR has called special attention to contamination concerns for PSRs, leading to sub-categorizations for missions that will explore those areas of the Moon.

  • Planetary Protection requirements and processes evolve based on the current scientific input. The requirements are aligned with the current scientific consensus as established by an independent, international community. Earth return samples from the Moon were originally treated as a Planetary Protection Restricted Earth Return up until Apollo 11. The mission required additional cleaning measures, quarantine of the astronauts for 21 days and sample safety analysis to ensure that the samples would not pose adverse harm to the Earth’s biosphere. Once the samples were deemed safe through sample safety assessments at the curation facility and it was confirmed the astronauts were not experiencing adverse reactions, subsequent missions did not have to adhere to such strict protocols. Thus, since Apollo 15, the Moon has been characterized as an Unrestricted Earth Return mission.  

  • Missions to search for life beyond Earth include multidisciplinary teams of experts across scientific fields that include planetary science, geology and geoscience, astrobiology, astronomy, astrophysics, biology, microbiology, chemistry, and much more. Planetary Protection is responsible for ensuring that all missions follow Planetary Protection requirements to protect solar system bodies from biological contamination from Earth and to prevent harm to Earth’s environment from possible extraterrestrial life forms. As such, Planetary Protection experts are crucial members of mission teams that search for life beyond Earth.

  • Given the multidisciplinary nature of topics covered by Planetary Protection, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Anyone interested in a career in Planetary Protection needs a strong background in a variety of subjects, including engineering and microbiology. At school, a student should focus on biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. At university, a degree in astrobiology, engineering, geology, planetary science, microbiology, the biological sciences or chemistry would be ideal. A curiosity about the universe is of course a must. Try to take an introductory astronomy, if possible.