About the Facility
As NASA missions search for possible signatures of life in the solar system, there's the real possibility of accidentally introducing microbes from Earth that are hardy enough to survive spaceflight, in turn potentially contaminating other worlds and undermining scientific investigations. APL's planetary protection team is responsible for ensuring that a mission's flight hardware is clear of any microbes or other biological hitchhikers. The team uses heat microbial reduction, vapor hydrogen peroxide sterilization and alcohol cleaning to reduce any biological burdens, and it verifies all flight hardware are then clear of any living organisms. Any hardy microorganisms are isolated from samples and cultured to allow for quantification. The APL team is currently collaborating with NASA and industry partners to develop the next generation of bioburden evaluation techniques and hardware decontamination methods.