ICAMSR - International Committee Against Mars Sample Return

U.S. House Of Representatives


Suite 2320 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6301
(202) 225-6371
TTY: (202) 226-4410

November 9, 1999

Mr. Barry E. DiGregorio
16 N. Hartland Street
Middleport, NY 14105

Dear Mr. DiGregorio:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter. As you mentioned in your letter, I agree that NASA needs to answer serious questions regarding the loss of the spacecraft. But, I truly believe that our progressive exploration of space creates vision, hope, and promise for the future of the United States.

The loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter is a setback for our space exploration efforts but by no means a fatal step for our Mars science program. Thankfully, NASA has learned from past mistakes and built a robust exploration program of Mars that doesn't involve putting all of its mission eggs in one basket. Mars Climate Orbiter is just one low-cost mission in a series, meaning our science effort isn't dependent on this single spacecraft. I anticipate long-term success despite this setback and look forward to working with NASA in determining how and why this mission failed and ensuring that the appropriate corrective actions have been taken.

Regarding the proposed Mars Sample Return mission, the National Research Council's Space Studies Board convened the Task Group on Issues in Sample Return in 1995 to address the following concerns:

  • The potential for a living entity to be included in a sample to be returned from another solar system body, in particular Mars;
  • The scientific investigations that should be conducted to reduce uncertainty in the above assessment;
  • The potential for large-scale effects on the environment resulting from the release of any returned entity;
  • The status of technological measures that could be taken on a mission to prevent the unintended release of a returned sample into Earth's biosphere; and
  • Criteria for controlled distribution of sample material, taking note of the anticipated regulatory framework.

The findings and recommendations of the Task Group on Issues in Sample Return were published in 1997. These findings are concurrent with your opinion that the public should be openly informed of plans, activities, results, and associated issues and are outlined in the executive summary portion of the study as follows:

  • The most effective strategy for allaying fear and distrust is to inform early and often as the program unfolds. Acknowledging the public's legitimate interest in planetary protection issues, and thereby keeping the public fully informed throughout the decision-making process related to sample return and handling, will go a long way toward addressing the public's concerns.

I agree with the statements made in the National Research Council's study and remain committed to keeping the American public informed and involved in the proposed Mars Sample Return mission. Thank you again for contacting my office. I invite you to follow the actions of the Science Committee on our web page at http://www.house.gov/science


Signature of Jim Sensenbrenner