Philosophical Society of Washington

Protecting All of the Planets, All of the Time

John Rummel
Planetary Protection Officer, NASA


2137th Meeting Abstract
Friday, November 30, 2001 at 8:15 PM

Abstract:

Through spacecraft observations we are learning that environments capable of supporting Earth-life may, indeed, exist elsewhere within our Solar System. As we learn more about these environments, the need to avoid contamination by spacecraft-carried microorganisms becomes more compelling. For both scientific and ethical reasons, plausible habitats elsewhere in the solar system should not be seeded with Earth organisms, while simple prudence dictates that we not introduce unknown new organisms onto the Earth. The likelihood of extraterrestrial life, and NASA's key technical and administrative efforts to avoid intrasolar biological contamination on past and upcoming missions to Mars and Europa will be discussed.

About the Author:

John D. Rummel is the NASA's Planetary Protection Officer, based at its Headquarters in Washington, DC. Previously at NASA he has served as Exobiology Discipline Scientist, and has overseen programs in Gravitational Biology, Biospheric Research, and Life Support Systems. From 1994-1997 he was Director of Research Administration and Education at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He received his doctorate in evolutionary ecology from Stanford University, and conducted postdoctoral research at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. He is currently a Faculty Affiliate in the Civil Engineering Department at Colorado State University, and a Fellow of the AAAS. He maintains a research interest in community ecology and evolution, and in the biogeography of the deep sea hydrothermal vents in Earth's oceans-and perhaps elsewhere.

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