Bias disclaimer: I think that returning samples from Mars to Earth at a point in time where we also suspect there is a chance that there is microbial life on Mars is ill-advised and arrogant. We are already scared of ancient viruses we don't know about trapped frozen in permafrost here on Earth being released as the climate warms. Even if a microbe doesn't infect humans, all it has to be able to do is to infect something e.g. algae in the ocean, wheat, rice or corn, honey bees, gut bacteria, and the planet or at least humanity is at severe risk. Random examples of news items are shown below.
"NASA stands up these independent boards to help the agency learn from past experiences and uncover subtle issues in space systems that may not have yet received sufficient attention," said David Thompson, retired president of Orbital ATK, who will chair the new board. "This review will give us the chance to focus on overall mission success and to consider potential improvements that can be made early in the program to help ensure that outcome."
Now that's what I'm talkin' about!! Image of the Genesis crash site below illustrates one such "subtle issue." ;-)
- Science: Scientists pull living microbes, possibly 100 million years old, from beneath the sea
- NYTimes: These Microbes May Have Survived 100 Million Years Beneath the Seafloor
- National Geographic: Ancient "Giant Virus" Revived From Siberian Permafrost
- BBC: There Are Diseases Hidden in the Ice and They are Waking Up
- PNAS: In-depth study of Mollivirus sibericum, a new 30,000-y-old giant virus infecting Acanthamoeba
- Live Science: Frozen Giant Virus Still Infectious After 30,000 Years
Typing "back contamination" in the search box on the main page https://sma.nasa.gov/ returns results that include:
Safeguarding Earth from back contamination is the highest planetary protection priority
from Planetary Protection Knowledge Gaps for Human Extraterrestrial Missions Workshop Report NASA Ames, March 24-26 2015
Safeguarding the Earth from potential back contamination is the highest planetary protection priority in Mars exploration.
From 2nd COSPAR WORKSHOP on: Refining Planetary Protection Requirements for Human Missions May 15-16, 2018 and COSPAR WORK MEETING on Developing Payload Requirements for Addressing PP Gaps on Natural Transport of Contaminants on Mars May 17-18, 20 18 BOX 1: COSPAR Planetary Protection Principles and Implementation Guidelines for Human Missions to Mars
Question: Considering the (small) potential for there to be microbes in Martian samples robotically returned to Earth, what precautions are planned to prevent an accident or anomaly or something else unlikely but not impossible from releasing them into the environment? Will there be hazmat crews ready to go if another Genesis-like land crash happens for example? What if it crashes into water?
Please don't post answers that this is not likely to happen; this is a question about the extent of precautions.
Sometimes sample return missions go bad and need to be recovered in the desert after they break open.
The capsule broke open on impact, and part of the inner sample capsule was also breached. The damage was less severe than might have been expected given its velocity; it was to some extent cushioned by falling into fairly soft ground.