image title

How do we keep the moon unspoiled?

July 9, 2020

Interplanetary Initiative hosts panel discussion on preserving outer space environments

After the gold rush of the 1850s, the Sierra Nevada foothills in California looked like giant moles had attacked. Thousands of mine shafts pocked the landscape. Hydraulic mining devoured hillsides and sent tons of silt into rivers and lakes. Forests went under the axe, denuding hillsides. Millions of pounds of mercury were used to leach gold from ore. To this day, it’s unsafe to eat fish caught in certain areas.

This is exactly what space officials want to prevent when we begin to colonize the moon in a few years.

That was the topic of “Planetary Protection and Lunar Activities,” a panel discussion held Thursday and co-hosted by Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative.

“We’re moving very, very rapidly,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “The key is keeping a pristine environment.”

The salon was part of the Moon DialogsThe project is a collaboration between Open Lunar Foundation, Secure World Foundation, the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, Arizona State University's Interplanetary Initiative and For All Moonkind. series, which seek to cultivate thought leadership on lunar surface coordination mechanisms to accelerate a peaceful and sustained presence on the moon. 

Planetary protection is the protection of space and celestial bodies from contamination from terrestrial life forms (or from bringing back anything nasty to Earth; we’ve all seen the movies.)

The discovery of hundreds of millions of tons of water ice on the moon a few years ago changed everything. NASA is changing its thinking on how to go to the moon. “Forward biological contamination” is what they want to prevent.

“With Mars we have to worry about backward contamination as well,” Bridenstine said. “All of a sudden it becomes more challenging to go to Mars with humans. … We as an agency need to strike a balance.”

Humans need to go to Mars, but the planet must also be protected for scientific research. It would be a huge disappointment to go there and discover life, only to realize it hitched a ride from Earth.

“As we learn more, we’re going to have to continue to make adjustments,” Bridenstine said.

The moon will be divided into two categories, he said. Category One will have very little requirements on contamination. That will cover most of the moon.

Category Two will cover certain areas, namely the permanently shadowed regions — basically the poles — with lots of water ice that need to be protected. You can go there, but you have to be really careful to inventory all the biology that will be going along, including on the spacecraft.

There needs to be a balance between commercial, science, and human exploration needs in space. Mars “is a world where we all need to be working together to achieve the best outcomes,” Bridenstine said. We simply don’t have enough information on either Mars or the moon to know where we can go and can’t.

Space becomes developed by legal structures that provide certainty, Bridenstine said. “What we don’t want to do is create uncertainty.”

Mike Gold is the NASA acting associate administrator for the Office of International and Interagency Relations.

“Precedent is important, and we have to establish the right precedent,” Gold said.

There is no weathering on the moon. Unlike a beach where the ocean wipes away the day’s footprints, any scar will last forever. Scars from Gen. Patton’s tanks still mar the Mojave desert where they trained for World War II 80 years ago. And what about protection from garbage and debris?

“We really have to stretch our imaginations,” said panelist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, planetary scientist, principal investigator on the Psyche mission and managing director of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative.

“What if there’s evidence of life on the moon?” Elkins-Tanton said.

We don’t know how life arose in this one spot — Earth. It may have arisen on a body like the moon. The precursors of life may be hidden on the lunar surface. All the more reason to protect it.

Top image: Central peak complex of Bhabha crater (70 kilometer diameter) rising from the shadows of dawn, image snapped on Aug. 28, 2019, from an altitude of 73 kilometers. View is seen from east-to-west, north is to the right, visible portion of central peak complex is about 14 kilometers wide, NAC M1321101374LR Courtesy NASA/GSFC/Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter /Arizona State University.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


image title

ADHS, ASU announce partnership to increase COVID-19 testing in Arizona

Tests are by appointment only; schedule at
July 9, 2020

ASU will launch program to provide free saliva-based diagnostic testing for up to 100,000 Arizonans

July 13 update: An additional date has been added: 7-11 a.m. Tuesday, July 14. Appointments can be made at the same link below, with the same agency code. Please check for future dates and times.

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and Arizona State University announced a new partnership Thursday that will increase COVID-19 diagnostic testing in Arizona. ASU will launch several testing sites that will provide free saliva diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in high-need underserved communities around the state.

The tests are by appointment only, which can be scheduled by visiting The first testing will take place on Saturday, July 11, from 8 a.m. to noon at Ak-Chin Pavilion, Gate 6, 2121 N. 83rd Ave. in Phoenix. Pre-register now by creating an account using the code jdzkkww6. Note that saliva testing is prohibited for those under the age of 8 years old.

Through this partnership, ADHS has committed up to $12.7 million to fund the expansion of testing sites to serve up to 100,000 Arizonans. ASU’s Biodesign Institute announced in May that it had developed the first saliva-based COVID-19 test in the state and has been utilizing saliva-based testing over the past six weeks to test critical workforce including health care workers, first responders and infrastructure personnel. ASU has also been using the saliva-based test with employees and students.

A collection tube for a COVID 19 saliva test

ASU’s Biodesign Institute developed the first saliva-based COVID-19 test in the state and over the past six weeks has used it to test critical workforce. In the coming week, it will begin testing the public. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“This critical partnership will have an immediate impact in the fight against COVID-19 and help us surge testing where it’s needed most,” Gov. Doug Ducey said. “My thanks to Arizona State University for their continued partnership and for continuing to step up to aid public health in innovative and invaluable ways.”

“We are excited to partner with Arizona State University to launch this new testing program that will increase our capacity to test more people for COVID-19,” said Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS director. “Testing is an important public health tool to help us track COVID-19 and to implement mitigation strategies to slow the spread of the disease in Arizona, and over the last several months we have been working with partners across the state to increase COVID-19 testing. This includes providing funding for new testing equipment and distributing specimen collection kits to health care partners, laboratories and local health departments.”

“It is the university’s commitment to be of service to the citizens of the state of Arizona in any way we can as we all work together to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “We are fortunate to have some extremely talented people at the university who have developed an innovative testing model, and it is our duty to share that expertise and put it to work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The new partnership with ASU will further increase the number of people who are getting a diagnostic COVID-19 test. ASU is working with ADHS on details related to future testing sites around the state. Since April, PCRPCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests are used to detect the presence of an antigen. diagnostic testing has increased 596% from 52,866 tests in April to 367,992 tests in June. There have been 36,653 PCR tests reported in the first week of July.

Arizonans can take the following precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Wear a mask every time you are in public, even if you do not feel sick. 
  • Physically distance by staying at least 6 feet away from others who are not in your household when you are in public. 
  • Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. 
  • Arizonans at higher risk for severe illness should continue to stay at home and avoid crowded public spaces. People at higher risk for severe illness include adults 65 or older and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) and immediately throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Health care providers are offering testing at nearly 300 testing locations statewide. People are encouraged to follow the instructions on the testing website as many of the health care providers require individuals to pre-register for testing and may have other requirements to get tested. Testing locations along with appointment times and registration links can be found online at

Top photo: Meghan Herrick (right) demonstrates giving Irene Mendoza instructions to fill the collection tube between a minimum and maximum level at one of seven ASU employee COVID-19 testing sites on Thursday.