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NASA Astrobiology: Letter to the Community: Safety, Equitable Access, and Justice in Fieldwork

Status Report From: NASA Astrobiology
Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Dear Astrobiology Community,

As part of our ongoing commitment to fostering a community of authentic diversity through safety, equitable access, and justice, the NASA Astrobiology Program is focusing attention on the fieldwork we support.

Recent events have highlighted egregious behaviors of scientists in the field, displaying unethical and unpermitted sampling, as well as blatant disrespect for Indigenous sovereignty and relationship to the land. A Town Hall session at the AGU 2021 Fall Meeting addressed this topic directly. We recognize that these behaviors are not the norm in our community—we’re grateful for that—yet we wish to build on this moment and work with you to co-create shared norms and behaviors in fieldwork.

I recently supplied new language* to NASA’s ROSES 2022 omnibus solicitation (NNH22ZDA001N) in Appendix C—Planetary Science Research Program (section 3.15—Fieldwork) that requires proposers to articulate their plans to demonstrate ethics in their proposed fieldwork, especially with respect to cultural, historical, and religious concerns of the field site. We greatly look forward to reading these.

Meanwhile, we seek to ensure that all protocols, processes, and practices around the fieldwork in our current research portfolio are in alignment with the highest ethical standards on many levels, including how we treat each other in the field (codes of conduct), how the field site itself is cared for (environmental protection), and how we consider relationships with Indigenous communities before, during, and after our fieldwork.

Starting shortly, we will engage with our funded teams that conduct fieldwork in an open, collaborative dialogue aimed at learning from and celebrating the good work already in place, as well as identifying any needed supports toward implementing new approaches or practices more aligned with our evolving ethics.

Outputs from these dialogues will inform a consensus on Standards of Ethics in Astrobiology Fieldwork. These standards will serve to uplift our community as a whole into ever greater excellence in our shared endeavors to understand our origins and search for life elsewhere. 
Mary A. Voytek, PhD
Senior Scientist for Astrobiology
Science Mission Directorate
NASA Headquarters

*3.15 Fieldwork
Proposers conducting field research must include a description of their use of field site(s) that demonstrates:
  • Respect for the values of other users of the site by considering the impact that their work will have on the environment (e.g., sensitive ecosystems or historic properties of religious, cultural, or scientific significance).
  • A research plan that reduces impact to the site (if any).
  • The intention to obtain relevant permits and follow their guidelines.

Moreover, to help create an environment that is free of harassment and discrimination, proposers must cite a specific policy, code of conduct, or ground rules provided to participants in advance of the fieldwork. This information will be provided by proposers in response to an NSPIRES cover page question.

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