Completed, Ongoing & Future Missions

Planetary Protection addresses microbial contamination of the solar system by spacecraft that we launch from Earth (forward contamination). This contamination must be prevented in order to preserve the integrity of exploring the solar system; celestial bodies that may have once held an environment suitable for life (e.g., Mars and outer planet icy bodies) are especially vulnerable. Likewise, extraterrestrial contamination of the Earth and Moon (backward contamination), by way of sample return missions, must be prevented. We must approach with caution and preparedness in bringing unknown and potentially dangerous biological materials back to Earth.

About the Categories

To address both types of contamination concerns, a Planetary Protection category for each mission is assigned according to the combination of the type of encounter a spacecraft may have and the nature of its destination (e.g., lander and moon). If a target body has the potential to support life, a spacecraft going there must undergo stringent cleaning and sterilization processes, and greater operating restrictions. Likewise, samples from planetary bodies that have the potential to support life must be sealed and sterilized prior to Earth-entry.

Mission Type Types of Planetary Bodies Types of Bodies Category
Flyby, Orbiter, Lander Planetary Protection requirements not obligated as there is no origin-of-life interest. Undifferentiated, metamorphosed asteroids I
Flyby, Orbiter, Lander Bodies where there is an origin-of-life interest and rare chance that contamination carried by a spacecraft could jeopardize future missions. Venus; Moon; Comets; Asteroids; Jupiter; Saturn II
Flyby, Orbiter Bodies where there is an origin-of-life interest and there is a significant chance that contamination carried by a spacecraft could jeopardize future missions. PP documentation and implementation required. Mars; Europa; Enceladus III
Lander, Probe Bodies where there is an origin-of-life interest and there is a significant chance that contamination carried by a spacecraft could jeopardize future missions. PP documentation and implementation required. Category IV missions for Mars are subdivided into IVa, IVb, and IVc. Mars; Europa; Enceladus IV
Restricted Earth-Return Earth-return missions from bodies with significant risk of backward contamination. Requires containment of any unsterilized samples collected and returned to Earth. Mars; Europa; Enceladus V (restricted)
Unrestricted Earth-Return Earth-return missions from bodies “deemed by scientific opinion to have no indigenous life forms.” Category I and II PP requirements suffice. Venus, Moon V (unrestricted)

Completed Missions

Mission About More Information Category
MGS The Mars Global Surveyor orbiter was designed to study the composition of Mars. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-global-surveyor/ III
Phoenix The Phoenix lander used a robotic arm to access ice under Martian polar caps. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/phoenix/ IVc
Stardust Comet sample return mission. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/stardust/ V unrestricted
Deep Impact For studying the composition of a comet by releasing an impactor into the comet. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/deep-impact/ II
DS1 Deep Space 1 was an ion-propelled spacecraft that successfully reached an asteroid. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/deep-space-1-ds1/ III
Galileo Mission to Jupiter. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/galileo/ II

Ongoing Missions

Mission About More Information Category
Odyssey Mars orbiter collects data on Mars’ climate and geology. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-odyssey/ III
MRO Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter studies history of water on Mars and provides crucial communication assistance to current and future Mars missions. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-reconnaissance-orbiter-mro/ III
MER Twin Mars Exploration Rovers designed to search and characterize a wide range of rocks and soil. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-exploration-rover-opportunity-mer/ IVa
MSL Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, studies Mars’ habitability. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-science-laboratory-curiosity-rover-msl/ IVa
Juno Juno orbits Jupiter to better understand its origin and evolution. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/juno/ II
Cassini Mission to explore Saturn and its complex set of rings and moons. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/cassini-huygens/ II
Dawn Mission to orbit and explore protoplanet Vesta. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/dawn/ III

Future Missions

Mission About More Information Category
InSight InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a mission that will place a geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/insight/ IVa
Mars2020 The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020/ V restricted
(outbound IVb)
Europa Clipper This planned mission would conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa and investigate whether the icy moon has conditions suitable for life. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/europa-clipper/ III
ARRM The Asteroid Robotic Redirect Mission is proposed to explore one of Earth’s asteroids. The asteroid would be redirected to orbit the moon where astronauts can explore and collect samples. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/asteroid-redirect-robotic-mission-arrm/ V unrestricted
Lucy and Psyche Two mission concepts to explore the early solar system. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=6713 II (anticipated)


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