Global Overview: Returned Astrobiology Sample Mission Architectures 2003-01-2675
This paper presents a global overview of current, planned and proposed sample missions. At present, missions are in progress to return samples from asteroids, comets and the interstellar medium. More missions are planned to Mars and the asteroids. Future sample return missions include more targets including Europa, Mercury and Venus. This review identifies the need for developing a coordinated international system for the handling and safety certification of returned samples. Such a system will provide added assurance to the public that all the participants in this new exploration arena have thought through the technical challenges and reached agreement on how to proceed.
All these future returned sample missions hold relevance to the NASA Astrobiology program because of the potential to shed light on the origins of life, or even to return samples of biological interest. The possibility that samples returned from other bodies to the Earth may contain biotic material or living organisms raises many considerations for preventing forward contamination of the samples and back contamination of the Earth and its biosphere. Multiple space-faring nations propose to conduct sample return missions, and the issue is whether they will adhere to comparable standards for sample handling and biocontainment. The restrictions on such a sample return are quite stringent and require further research and development to make possible the safe receiving and handling of extraterrestrial samples