The NASA Procedural Requirement document NPR 8020.12 states that “An inventory of bulk constituent organics is required if the probability of impact is considered significant.” One of the important reasons for archiving organic materials is to have knowledge about Earth contamination sources in preparation for returned sample science investigations and analyses. A “false-positive” indication of life via life-detection instruments on board the spacecraft, or in the sample after it is returned to Earth, could lead to unnecessary increased Planetary Protection requirements for future missions. Therefore, future signals indicating the presence of organic signatures in samples can be absolved by having a prior inventory of organic materials.
For all launched hardware, if the bulk organic constituents are greater than 1kg, an organic materials inventory is required. The inventory contains parts lists, material lists, and any data relevant to organic material identification. It also includes locations of landing sites and condition of the landing spacecraft to assess spread of organic contamination. Note that this requirement also applies to the Moon. If the bulk organic constituents are greater than 25kg, then 50g samples of all organic materials is required for archiving.
A computer database provides information for the materials collected and their physical location (bin, shelf, etc.) at the archive. The archive currently has organic samples from the following missions: Viking, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Phoenix Lander, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Science Laboratory, Maven and Insight. Some of the materials collected include tapes, adhesives, thermal paint, and parachute materials.
The Space Microbiology Lab located at JPL is home to the archive and provides an abundance of equipment and research opportunities for the Biotechnology and Planetary Protection staff, post-docs, and students.