Broadcast 2663 Dr. Catharine (Cassie) Conley

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Guest:  Dr. Catharine (Cassie) Conley;  Topics:  Planetary Protection.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,   Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See

We welcomed back Dr. Catharine (Cassie) Conley, Director of the NASA Office of Planetary Protection, to explain and discuss planetary protection from both the U.S. and the international perspective.  As you will hear, planetary protection is not just a perspective, it is an enforceable set of regulations developed since our early days of the space program and enforced by all members who have signed the Outer Space Treaty.  We also learned that the UAE, now interested in space and a country that has not signed the OST, has been in touch with planetary protection offices to follow the planetary protection guidelines for their upcoming missions. The UAE will be complying with planetary protection rules and guidelines. 

Our 1 hour 23 minute discussion was carried out in one segment, no break.  Dr. Conley started out by explaining planetary protection (PP), international participation, COSPAR and more.  She went into past human history as to why PP was important citing what happened when Columbus brought Quartan malaria with him to the New World.  She said that today, Malaria is a $5 billion a year expense for impacted areas and it can be traced back to the Columbus exploration.  Our guest had much to say and many examples to reference in support of PP for Mars based on Earth examples.  She said that Mars may not be as safe and friendly as many space enthusiasts think as even today there are many unknown and possible human risks associated with Martian planetary exploration, both in terms of human contamination on Mars and exposure to something on Mars that can hurt or kill humans.

Rather than review this very detailed and comprehensive discussion, including excellent listener emails and calls, I urge you to carefully listen to this interview if you are at all interested in humans going to Mars.  Contrary to what you might have heard, Article IX of the OST does not prohibit humans to Mars but strict guidelines have been developed and based on current science at the time of the planned human Mars mission, a determination would be made about the mission going forward.  All of this was discussed in great detail with lots of listener questions drawing our guest out for even more detail.  I will add that both SpaceX and Mars One have been in touch with PP & COSPAR offices and are paying attention to PP guidelines and the need for more and more science regarding human missions.  I will also say that there are only three restricted possible human destinations at this time regrading PP, Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. 

Though I know I am being repetitive, I urge you to listen to this complete discussion with Dr. Conley if you are interested in a Mars human mission.  Remember, such missions may in the future be approved to areas designated "safe" or "highly resistant" to human contamination of Mars plus risks to humans.  You will also hear about the considered risk for bringing a crew member back to Earth who became ill on a Mars mission.  This raised many questions, including questions regarding quarantine.  Containment was also discussed but mostly regarding a Mars sample return mission.  Risk assessment and risk versus reward was also discussed, plus you will hear understand the risk ratios used by PP at this time.

We want to hear what you think of PP and PP guidelines.  Please post your comments/questions in the comments section for this archived program.  You can reach Dr. Conley through me or through her NASA website,




Director, NASA Office of Planetary Protection

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11 Mar 2016 Dr. Catharine Conley
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