The mission of the Office of Planetary Protection is to assist and promote the responsible exploration of the solar system by minimizing the biological contamination of explored environments. The purposes or intents of planetary protection are several-fold and include:
- Preserving our ability to study other worlds as they exist in their natural states;
- Avoiding the biological contamination of explored environments that may obscure our ability to find life elsewhere – if it exists; and
- To ensure that we take prudent precautions to protect Earth’s biosphere in case life does exist elsewhere.
To accomplish these goals, the Office of Planetary Protection is involved in many facets of mission development that include assistance in the construction of sterile (or low biological burden) spacecraft, the development of flight plans that protect planetary bodies of interest, the development of plans to protect the Earth from returned extraterrestrial samples, and the formulation and application of space policy as it applies to planetary protection.
It is the aim of Office of Planetary Protection to work in conjunction with solar system mission planners in order to ensure compliance with NASA policy and international agreements. Ultimately, the objective of planetary protection is to support the scientific study of chemical evolution and the origins of life in the solar system.
The strategy for communication of the Office of Planetary Protection is an integral element of program planning and activities; this communication strategy is summarized in the Precis to the Communication Strategy and detailed in the Full Communication Strategy. Accordingly, the Office of Planetary Protection offers several resources for the general public, mission planners, practitioners of planetary protection, and researchers in planetary protection. These resources are provided on the varying pages of this site, and include a course in planetary protection, an overview of planetary protection, references that detail developments and research in planetary protection, historical perspectives of planetary protection, and more.