Lisa Pratt
Credit: Anna Powell Teeter/IU Bloomington

When it comes to planetary protection and assuring valid and safe scientific exploration for extraterrestrial life, there’s a new space sheriff in town. The job comes with central celestial duties: Avoid forward contamination of other worlds by terrestrial organisms carried on spacecraft. Also, prevent toting back to Earth “creature features” or bioactive molecules in samples returned for scientific study.

Clean room care: InSight Mars lander undergoes a solar array deployment test at Lockheed Martin.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lisa Pratt is a NASA Headquarters newbie, entering the role of Planetary Protection Officer in early February. As an Indiana University Bloomington astrobiologist, she’s taken the tiller just as the space agency office was shifted from the Science Mission Directorate to the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.

To learn of Pratt’s check list of planetary protection do’s and don’ts, here’s my new Scientific American story:

As Space Becomes a Busy Place, NASA Bolsters Its Planet-Contamination Police

Lisa Pratt, the space agency’s new planetary protection officer, could soon oversee major shifts in regulations on public- and private-sector space missions

One Response to “The Bio-burden of Being NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer”

  • If there are living oceans in this solar system with complex lifeforms then this is serious stuff. It is indeed a possibility. I remember as a teenager when the very first deep ocean vent communities were discovered by the submersible Alvin and everyone was shocked. Maybe intelligent octopus/squid- like creatures existing in thriving ecosystems will be found on multiple moons and other bodies like Ceres.

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