Mars Sample Handling and Requirements Panel (MSHARP)

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Mars Sample Handling and Requirements Panel (MSHARP)

  • Michael H., Carr
  • Daniel J., Mccleese
  • Jeffrey L., Bada
  • Donald D., Bogard
  • Benton C., Clark
  • Donald, Devincenzi
  • Michael J., Drake
  • Kenneth H., Nealson
  • James J., Papike
  • Margaret Race
  • David, Stahl
Publication Date
Apr 18, 1999
SETI Institute


In anticipation of the return of samples from Mars toward the end of the first decade of the next century, NASA s Office of Space Sciences chartered a panel to examine how Mars samples should be handled. The panel was to make recommendations in three areas: (1) sample collection and transport back to Earth; (2) certification of the samples as nonhazardous; and (3) sample receiving, curation, and distribution. This report summarizes the findings of that panel. The samples should be treated as hazardous until proven otherwise. They are to be sealed within a canister on Mars, and the canister is not to be opened until within a Biosafety Hazard Level 4 (BSL-4) containment facility here on Earth. This facility must also meet or exceed the cleanliness requirements of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) facility for curation of extraterrestrial materials. A containment facility meeting both these requirements does not yet exist. Hazard assessment and life detection experiments are to be done at the containment facility, while geochemical characterization is being performed on a sterilized subset of the samples released to the science community. When and if the samples are proven harmless, they are to be transferred to a curation facility, such as that at JSC.

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