Review of the MEPAG Report on
Mars Special Regions
Committee to Review the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions
Space Studies Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
European Space Sciences Committee
European Science Foundation
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This study is based on work supported by the Contract NNH11CD57B between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and work supported by the Contract RFP/IPL-PTM/PA/fg/306.2014 between the European Science Foundation and the European Space Agency. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of any agency that provided support for the project.
Cover: An artist’s impression of NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander on the surface of Mars. InSight is scheduled to be launched in March 2016 and it carries instruments built by NASA, the German Space Agency (DLR), and French Space Agency (CNES). The U.S.-built spacecraft bus is seen after deploying DLR’s mole and heat flow probe (left) and CNES’ seismometer (right). The type of geological analysis performed to certify that InSight will no access a Special Region is a model that can be used by future Mars missions. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-37904-5
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-37904-0
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The European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC) is the European Science Foundation’s (ESF’s) strategic board on space research. It aims to promote space science related activities, to facilitate the definition and the organization of space research programs in Europe, and to encourage the coordination of space research in concert with the European Space Agency, the European Commission and European Union, European scientific associations, national space agencies, and scientific organizations of other countries concerned with space-related research.
Following the establishment in 1974 under the auspices of the UK Royal Society of the “Provisional Space Science Board for Europe,” the ESSC was established in 1975 as a Standing Committee of the newly created European Science Foundation. The ESSC had grown out of the need for a collaborative effort that would ensure European space scientists made their voices heard on the other side of the Atlantic, in an era when successive Apollo and space science missions had thrust the idea of space exploration into the collective conscious for the first time.
The ESSC remains just as relevant today as it acts as an interface with the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Commission, national space agencies, and ESF Member Organisations on space-related aspects.
The mission of the ESSC is to provide an independent European voice on European space research and policy. It is the ESF’s Strategic Board on space research.
Based in Strasbourg, France, ESF was set up in 1974 as an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organisation to help its Member Organisations collaborate internationally on research programmes. ESF helps meet this objective by providing administrative, management and coordination services to independent scientific boards/committees and collaborative scientific projects, whilst harnessing in-depth knowledge of the European Commission and associated research communities.
Now after 40 years of success in stimulating European research through its networking and coordination activities, ESF is undergoing a major change of focus. It is concentrating on activities designed to support and sustain the funding and conduct of scientific research across Europe. This is a natural evolution of its traditional role, since the aim remains to promote scientific developments through collaborative actions, but with the emphasis shifting to helping research funding organisations carry out their decision making processes.
ESF’s aim is to serve and strengthen science by exploiting its assets to build and develop an organisation that is self-financing and independent, but at the same time non-profit and customer-service oriented. To this end it will be working alongside leading science funding institutions as well as national funding bodies.
ESF currently has 66 member organisations in 29 countries.
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COMMITTEE TO REVIEW THE MEPAG REPORT ON MARS SPECIAL REGIONS
PETRA RETTBERG, German Aerospace Center, Chair
ALEXANDRE ANESIO, University of Bristol
VICTOR BAKER, University of Arizona
JOHN A. BAROSS, University of Washington, Seattle
SHERRY L. CADY, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
CHRISTINE M. FOREMAN, Montana State University
ERNST HAUBER, German Aerospace Center
GIAN GABRIELE ORI, Universita d’Annunzio
DAVID PEARCE, Northumbria University
NILTON RENNÓ, University of Michigan
GARY RUVKUN, Harvard Medical School
BIRGIT SATTLER, University of Innsbruck
MARK P. SAUNDERS, NASA (retired)
DIRK WAGNER, German Research Center for Geosciences Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
FRANCES WESTALL, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
EMMANOUIL DETSIS, Science Officer, European Science Foundation
DAVID H. SMITH, Senior Staff Officer, Space Studies Board
NICOLAS WALTER, Senior Science Officer, European Science Foundation
ANDREA REBHOLZ, Program Coordinator, Space Studies Board
DANIELLE YOUNGSMITH, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern, Space Studies Board
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director, Space Studies Board
JEAN-CLAUDE WORMS, Head, Science Support Office, European Science Foundation
EUROPEAN SPACE SCIENCES COMMITTEE
ATHENA COUSTENIS, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, Paris, France, Chair
CONNY AERTS, Katholieke Universiteit Lueven, Belgium
MAHESH ANAND, The Open University, United Kingdom
ESTER ANTONUCCI, Torino Observatory of Astronomy, Italy
HEIKO BALZTER, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
PIERRE BINETRUY, Université Paris Diderot, France
IAN BROWN, Stockholm University, Sweden
ALEXANDER CHOUKÈR, Universität München, Germany
PAOLO DE BERNARDIS, La Sapienza University, Roma, Italy
LAURENCE EYMARD, Pierre et Marie Curie Université, Paris, France
BERNDT FEUERBACHER, German Aerospace Center (retired), Germany
HELEN J. FRASER, The Open University, United Kingdom
ANDREAS KÄÄB, Oslo University, Norway
MAARTEN KROL, University of Twente, Netherlands
DOMINIQUE LANGEVIN, CNRS, Paris, France
FRANCK MONTMESSIN, Pierre et Marie Curie Université, Paris, France
KARRI MUINONEN, University and Observatory of Helsinki, Finland
HERMANN J. OPGENOORTH, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Stockholm, Sweden
GERHARD PAAR, Institute for Information and Communication Technologies, Joanneum Research, Austria
ANNE PAVY-LE-TRAON, CHU, Toulouse, France
ROBERTO PIAZZA, Milano University, Italy
PETER PREU, German Aerospace Center (retired), Germany
PETRA RETTBERG, German Aerospace Center, Germany
HUBERTUS THOMAS, German Aerospace Center, Germany
JORDI TORRA, Universidad de Barcelona, Spain
STEPHANE UDRY, University and Observatory of Geneva, Switzerland
PEPIJN VEEFKIND, KMNI, De Bilt, Netherlands
JEAN-CLAUDE WORMS, Head, Science Support Office
NICOLAS WALTER, Senior Science Officer
EMMANOUIL DETSIS, Science Officer
CATHERINE LOBSTEIN, Administrative Coordinator
SPACE STUDIES BOARD
DAVID N. SPERGEL, Princeton University, Chair
ROBERT D. BRAUN, Georgia Institute of Technology, Vice Chair
SUSAN AVERY, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
JAMES G. ANDERSON, Harvard University
JAMES P. BAGIAN, University of Michigan
JEFF M. BINGHAM, Consultant, Round Hill, Virginia
PENELOPE J. BOSTON, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
MARY LYNNE DITTMAR, Dittmar Associates, Inc.
JOSEPH FULLER, JR., Futron Corporation
THOMAS R. GAVIN, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NEIL GEHRELS, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
SARAH GIBSON, National Center for Atmospheric Research
WESLEY T. HUNTRESS, JR., Carnegie Institution of Washington (retired)
ANTHONY C. JANETOS, Boston University
CHRYSSA KOUVELIOTOU, The George Washington University
SAUL PERLMUTTER, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
LOUISE M. PROCKTER, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
MARK THIEMENS, University of California, San Diego
MEENAKSHI WADHWA, Arizona State University
THOMAS H. ZURBUCHEN, University of Michigan
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director
CARMELA J. CHAMBERLAIN, Administrative Coordinator
TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations
CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate
MARGARET KNEMEYER, Financial Officer
SANDRA WILSON, Financial Assistant
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The international consensus planetary protection policy, maintained by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council for Science, requires specific constraints on the development and operation of spacecraft with the potential to enter so-called “Special Regions” on Mars. A Special Region is, roughly speaking, a location on or within Mars where Earth life might survive and proliferate. At NASA’s request, the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) established the Special Regions Science Analysis Group (SR-SAG2) in October 2013 to re-examine the quantitative definition of a Special Region and proposed modifications to it, as necessary, based on the latest scientific results.
In October 2014, following the completion of the SR-SAG2 report—but prior to its formal publication in the November 2014 issue of the journal Astrobiology—John M. Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, asked the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine “to review the conclusions and recommendations contained in the SR-SAG2 report and assess their consistency with current understanding of both the martian environment and the physical and chemical limits for the survival and propagation of microbial and other life on Earth.” In addition, Dr. Grunsfeld (see Appendix D) noted that “it is our understanding that ESA [the European Space Agency] has requested the European Science Foundation (ESF) conduct a very similar review of the SR-SAG2 report. Given the close working relationship between NASA and ESA, in general, and their respective Planetary Protection Offices, in particular, the NRC should engage with ESF and explore the possibility of a joint study responsive to the needs of both agencies.”
The SSB and ESF’s European Space Sciences Committee have maintained a close working relationship for many decades and have published a number of joint reports, but none since 1998. Representatives from the two organizations worked closely with the planetary protection officers from NASA and ESA and developed the following statement of task for this joint activity:
An ad hoc committee under the auspices of the National Research Council and the European Science Foundation will review the current planetary protection requirements for Mars Special Regions and their proposed revision as outlined in the 2014 Special Regions report of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG). The resulting report from the review shall include recommendations for an update of the planetary protection requirements for Mars Special Regions.
There were two reasons why both agencies took the seemingly unusual step of independently commissioning reviews of a review paper that was to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. First, there is the perception in
some circles that MEPAG is not independent and that its views are too closely aligned with NASA’s Mars Program Office.1 Second, the planetary protection policies of both NASA and ESA, in accord with COSPAR policy, entail that planetary protection requirements imposed on spaceflight missions be determined following receipt of multidisciplinary scientific advice. ESF and the Academies provide unique interface with their respective scientific communities through their membership organisations and can provide independent advice taking into account all relevant areas of science, including the engineering and social sciences and the humanities. As a consequence, both NASA and ESA have established arrangements by which the Academies and ESF, respectively provide strategic advice on planetary protection.
It is important to note that neither the Academies nor ESF has an established mechanism for conducting a joint study with another organization. Thus, the joint committee, the Committee to Review the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions (hereafter the “review committee”), followed the standard administrative, organizational, appointment, and review procedures of both of its parent entities. In practice, the review committee followed all of the standard procedures relevant to a committee of the Academies plus a few extras mandated by ESF practice.
Staff from the Academies and ESF, together with the planetary protection officers from ESA and NASA, the lead author of SR-SAG2, and several of the prospective European members of the review committee met at the European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, on October 7, 2014, to hold preliminary discussions about the organization and schedule for the study. Following the ESTEC meeting, the final slate of both U.S. and European committee members was assembled, and formal appointment procedures by the Academies and ESF were completed by November 17. The U.S. participants in the joint activity were briefed and oriented during a conference call on December 2. The review committee held its first full meeting at the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany, on December 16-17, 2014. The committee’s second and final meeting was held at the Academies’ Beckman Center in Irvine, California, on February 12-13, 2015. A full draft of the report was assembled during the Spring of 2015 and was sent to external reviewers on July 13.
The work of the review committee was made easier thanks to the important help, advice, and comments provided by numerous individuals from a variety of public and private organizations. These include the following, W. Bruce Banerdt (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Catharine Conley (NASA), Gerhard Kminek (ESA), John Rummel (East Carolina University), and Colin Dundas (University of Arizona).
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Michael H. Carr (U.S. Geological Survey, retired), Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh), François Forget (Univerisity of Paris 6), G. Scott Hubbard (Stanford University), Jonathan I. Lunine (Cornell University), John C. Priscu (Montana State University), Marcia J. Rieke (University of Arizona), and Pericles Stabekis (SETI Institute, retired).
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by François Raulin (University of Paris 12) and Louis J. Lanzerotti (New Jersey Institute of Technology), who were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institutions.
1 MEPAG is, according to its website, “a community-based forum designed to provide science input from the scientific community to NASA for the planning and prioritization of Mars future exploration activities, and to facilitate distribution of NASA Mars Program information to its members. Its Executive Committee is chartered by NASA’s Lead Scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA HQ . . . . NASA’s Mars Program Office, located at [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory], has been directed to manage the logistics associated with the operations of MEPAG on behalf of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.”
1 PLANETARY PROTECTION AND MARS SPECIAL REGIONS
The Scope and Organization of This Report
2 THE ASSESSMENT OF THE POTENTIAL OF TERRESTRIAL LIFEFORMS TO SURVIVE AND PROLIFERATE ON MARS IN THE NEXT 500 YEARS
Factors Influencing the Physical and Chemical Limits of Life
Investigations of the Limits of Life on Earth
Life in Extreme Environments and in Multispecies Communities
Detectability of Potential Small-Scale Microbial Habitats
Translocation of Terrestrial Contamination
3 MARTIAN GEOLOGICAL AND MINERALOGICAL FEATURES POTENTIALLY RELATED TO SPECIAL REGIONS
Methane: Potential Abiotic and Biotic Sources
Water and the Thermodynamics of Brines
Dark Slope Streaks, Recurring Slope Lineae, and Gullies
Shallow Subsurface Conditions and Ice Deposits
Snow, Ice Deposits, and Subsurface Ice
Overall Assessment of the SR-SAG2 Report
Environmental Parameters Defining a Special Region
Identification of Special Regions
Specific Terrains Identified as Special Regions
Updated Definition of a Special Region
A Suggestions for Future Research
B MEPAG SR-SAG2 Findings, Revisions, and Updates
D Letter Requesting This Study