SP-4902 The Planetary Quarantine Program

 

Scientific Concern Over Possible Contamination

 

[3] THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY, both national and international, was alerted by early space efforts and soon began expressing its concern over possible lunar and planetary contamination. The International Astronautical Federation took up this matter at its seventh Congress in Rome, in September 1956, a year before the Sputnik program. In the United States the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), acting as the focal point for organized scientific opinion within this country, served as the contact with other national and international scientific bodies. NAS first considered the harmful effects of contamination in 1957, and its president at the time, Dr. Detlev W. Bronk, recommended a Satellite-Life Sciences Symposium which was held May 14-17, 1958, in Washington. On June 4, 1958, Dr. Bronk established within NAS the Space Science Board (SSB), with Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner as its first chairman. Moving into the international arena, on February 8, 1958, NAS had formally transmitted their council's recommendations concerning contamination to the International Congress of Scientific Unions (ICSU). As a result of this action, ICSU formed an ad hoc committee on Contamination by Extraterrestrial Exploration (CETEX), which held its first meeting on May 12-13, 1958, at The Hague (Science, vol. 128, 1958). Dr. Marcel Florkin was the president of this body, and Dr. Donald J. Hughes from the U.S. was a member, representing the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. All of these events had taken place before the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

[4] Almost coincidental with the establishment of NASA, the ICSU at its meeting in Washington, October 2-4, 1958, formed COSPAR, an international Committee on Space Research. Dr. W. Albert Noyes, Jr., served as the U.S. National Representative at its first meeting, held in London, England, November 14-15, 1958. COSPAR has met annually ever since, with Dr. Richard W. Porter replacing Dr. Noyes as U.S. National Representative for the second meeting. Dr. Porter served in this capacity until the 1971 meeting at Seattle, Washington. Since then Dr. Herbert Friedman has headed the U.S. delegation at COSPAR. The plenary sessions of COSPAR and their locations appear in Table 1.

 

Table 1. Plenary meetings of COSPAR

1958 . London, England
1959 The Hague, The Netherlands
1960 Nice, France
1961 Florence, Italy
1962 Washington, D.C.
1963 Warsaw, Poland
1964 Florence, Italy
1965 Mar del Plata, Argentina
1966 Vienna, Austria
1967 London, England
1968 Tokyo, Japan
1969 Prague, Czechoslovakia
1970 Leningrad, U.S.S.R.
1971 Seattle, Washington
1972 Madrid, Spain
1973 Constance, West Germany

 

COSPAR covered all aspects of space research, including biology, after they took over the functions of the ad hoc CETEX following that group's second meeting on March 9-10, 1959, at The Hague. Dr. Wallace O. Fenn and Dr. Donald J. Hughes represented the U.S. at the second and last CETEX meeting. Within the United States CETEX had its counterparts in EASTEX and later WESTEX, informal groups meeting from late 1958 through 1959, under the auspices of the NAS/SSB, with Dr. Bruno B. Rossi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Dr. Joshua Lederberg of Stanford University serving as respective chairmen.

Dr. Lederberg was also requested by the SSB to set up an ad hoc meeting to make recommendations concerning spacecraft sterilization. This committee met at Stanford on July 6-8, 1959. Besides Dr. Lederberg, who served as Chairman, members included R.C. Bauman, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA; Richard W. Davies, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); Dr. G. Wesley Dunlap, General Electric [5] Company; and Dr. Charles R. Phillips, U.S. Army Biological Laboratories (BioLabs). George A. Derbyshire from SSB served as secretary.

The biology with which the SSB, and later COSPAR, concerned themselves covered all aspects as it related to the space program. This embraced space medicine, as well as life sciences, exobiology, spacecraft sterilization, and planetary quarantine. This report is concerned only with the latter two disciplines, but it is hard to isolate them from the other biological disciplines in the early part of the space program. For instance, the request for the sterilization of spacecraft was an outgrowth of exobiological concern. If alien life forms were to be found and examined, they must be kept separated, at least in the beginning, from the ubiquitous microorganisms of Earth. Later as the space biology program expanded, the various biological disciplines became better defined and were considered separately.

The Space Science Board of NAS and COSPAR were not the only scientific groups to express an early concern over possible biological contamination as the space program expanded. As early as December 1958, the United Nations formed a Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). The American Astronautical Society considered similar topics at several of its meetings. A paper on the sterilization of space vehicles was presented at the 10th International Astronautics Congress in London, August 31-September 5, 1959 (Davis and Comuntzis, 1960). The American Association for the Advancement of Science sponsored a symposium on Extraterrestrial Biology and Biochemistry at its Denver meeting in December 1959. This was organized and chaired by Dr. Charles R. Phillips.

The SSB of the National Academy of Sciences, together with its representation at COSPAR, served and continues to serve as the main outside scientific source of recommendations to NASA on planetary quarantine. Among the SSB members, most of whom had nonbiological backgrounds, those most concerned with planetary quarantine have been Dr. Allan H. Brown, Dr. Wolf V. Vishniac, and Dr. Colin S. Pittendrigh. They, together with Dr. Carl E. Sagan and Dr. Lawrence B. Hall, have been active on COSPAR Working Group 5, Space Biology, which was set up at the Warsaw meeting in 1963. The proceedings of the COSPAR meetings appear annually in Space Research (North-Holland, Amsterdam) beginning with Volume I, 1960, covering the Nice meeting. Papers dealing with the life sciences comprise a substantive section in the second volume of Space Research for the Florence meeting of 1961. Beginning in 1962, the papers on the life sciences have been published separately each year in a companion volume Life Sciences and Space Research.

[6] One specific COSPAR-sponsored Symposium was held in London, England, just prior to COSPAR's 1967 plenary session there. These proceedings were published separately as COSPAR Technique Manual No. 4, Sterilization Techniques for Instruments and Materiels as Applied to Space Research, (Sneath, ed., 1968).

Other advisory bodies which have been set up by NASA itself, such as the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) consultants and the Life Sciences Committee of NASA, will be discussed later.


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