The team determined that the potential for delay presents a “significant software risk” to the yield of the Martian sample. After all, returning is likely to be more complicated, in terms of paperwork, than that of purely ground-based projects.
NASA wants its project to comply with international planetary protection policies in addition to its complementary policies. The sample receiving facility must also be approved through the National Environmental Policy Act process, which requires the issuance of an Environmental Impact Statement. In addition, the spacecraft and its internal facilities may have to deal with Presidential National Security Directive 25, which governs science and technology experiments that may have significant environmental impacts. This is not to neglect the official interest from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and possibly other state and local governments.
The team found that engaging with the public, not just government agencies, was also key to the project’s success. Dr. Rommel said transparency with the public is key not only to winning public support but to keeping it accountable and safe. “Total openness is the only thing that will make this business successful, which means you have to do the right thing,” he said.
“If you think you have any of this you should keep a secret, you shouldn’t,” he added.
Facility builders will have to consider the public interest, not just research, when communicating. When Scott Hanton, managing editor of the publication Lab Manager, thinks of the perception and communication challenges that NASA will face with the Sample Receiving Facility, two acronyms come to mind: NIMBY and WIIFM. Not in my backyard and what’s inside of it for me, which has to be balanced.
Dr. Hunton believes that the answer to the last question must come from the evaluator’s personal point of view. “It’s not just from the world’s perspective to learn something new,” he said. “But why should the neighborhood, the region, the state and the state embark on this investment and this danger?”