In April, 2022, NASA began the process to obtain environmental approval for the return of unsterilized Mars Samples. A formal Notice was published in the Federal Register which described a two-tier approach for approval. Tier 1 includes the return of unsterilized Mars samples to Earth, and NASA accepted public comments during the “scoping” effort for this phase from April 15 until May 15. Approximately 164 comments were submitted, and 141 of these considered the risk of bringing back unsterilized samples directly to Earth. Of these 141 comments, more than 91% opposed NASA’s plans, while less than 9% agreed.
This strong public opposition is also reflected in responses to FaceBook sponsored posts; in several posts over 95% of the reactions indicated opposition. And since the total pool of reactions was several thousand, this is a substantial demonstration of the public’s feeling, once they become aware of what NASA is planning. As one comment succinctly states: “Don’t do it!”
The next step is a public release of the Tier 1 Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in the Fall, and hopefully, more of the public will be aware and submit comments then.