Two Opportunities from the Mars Exploration Program

Dear Colleague,

The Mars Exploration Program (MEP) would like to solicit your participation on a Mars 2020 Contamination Study Panel.

Mars 2020 is a strategic mission sponsored by NASA’s Planetary Science Division, through the Mars Exploration Program, all of which are part of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). This mission is designed to advance the scientific priorities detailed in the National Research Council’s Planetary Science Decadal Survey, entitled “Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022.” Mars 2020 rover development and design will be largely based upon the Mars Science Laboratory architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the martian surface. Additional mission information can be found at

The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team report  recommended that, among other in-situ science and technology objectives, the mission should acquire scientifically selected samples and place them into a cache that could potentially be returned to Earth by a future mission. These samples, should NASA choose to return them, would provide opportunities for performing a variety of Earth-based experiments including ones related to the search for signs of life.

In order to meet the requirement that the cache be returnable, the MEP and the Project must define hardware requirements and mission characteristics that would affect the quality of the samples and future measurement results. One such attribute is the ability to reduce terrestrial organic contamination to a point where its presence would not interfere with sensitive investigations of martian organic geochemistry—or with our ability to distinguish terrestrial from martian organic molecules. It is anticipated that these requirements will place constraints on spacecraft cleanliness (particularly organic cleanliness) and sampling/caching system capabilities, including potentially introducing a requirement for blanks, witness plates, and check material.

In order to further define these requirements, the MEP is convening a Contamination Study Panel. The charter of the Mars 2020 Contamination Study Panel is as follows:

Evaluate draft Mars 2020 mission sample contamination requirements.  Assess implementation approaches with respect to returned sample science objectives to support the investigation of martian organic geochemistry in the returned samples and differentiation of indigenous molecules from terrestrial contamination.

The panel will have approximately 5–10 members, plus involvement of program/project/discipline support personnel. It is anticipated that the panel members would have expertise and knowledge spanning astrobiology, organic chemistry/geochemistry including theory and state-of-the-art lab practices, and contamination control and measurement. The panel will meet by teleconference once or twice per week between March 1 and July 1, with two face-to-face meetings. A draft report will be due May 1, and final report July 1.

If you are able and interested in supporting this effort, please, send a curriculum vitae and letter of interest to Dr. Michael Meyer via email ([email protected]), by February 25, 2014.  Thank you for your consideration.


Michael Meyer, Lead Scientist, NASA Mars Exploration Program
Lisa May, Lead Program Executive, NASA Mars Exploration Program

Planetary Science Division
Science Mission Directorate
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
300 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20546


Announcing a pre-LPSC planning meeting:

Planning for Potential Mars Returned Sample Science: Considerations Related to Sample Quality

Sunday March 16, 2014, 8:30 am – 4 pm

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Scientists with experience in any aspect of Mars-relevant sample studies

DESIRED OUTCOME: Descriptions of the factors related to minimum acceptable quality for the samples that would potentially be the basis of Mars returned sample science, and formulations of potential baseline and threshold sample quality requirements for each factor.

WHY: The science community needs to describe the desired and minimum acceptable state of the samples that would be needed to achieve the scientific objectives of MSR.  This is a key input into a). requirements formulation for the M-2020 rover, and b). forward planning for the other potential flight and ground elements that would be associated with MSR.

WHERE: The Woodlands Conference Center, Panther Creek Room

Space is limited!  Please RSVP to Carla De La Paz at [email protected],

Sponsored by NASA Mars Exploration Program