Space Science Board

The Space Science Board (SSB) was a committee, now renamed the Space Studies Board, that was formed by the National Academy of Sciences in 1958, shortly after the launch of the first Earth satellites to help establish national goals in space science. For more than four decades, it has served as NASA's primary advisor on planetary protection. Initially chaired by Lloyd Berkner, its original membership also included Harold Urey, Joshua Lederberg, and J. P. T. Pearman. The SSB's Panel on Extraterrestrial Life was set up principally to address the problem of back-contamination by spacecraft and consisted of two groups, EASTEX on the East Coast, chaired by Joshua Lederberg, and WESTEX on the West Coast, chaired by Melvin Calvin, which met from 1958 to 1960. In August 1960, these groups were merged into Committee 14 on Exobiology, following the dissolution of Panel 2 on Extraterrestrial Life. The following year, the Space Science Board sponsored the Green Bank conference (1961) to assess the prospects for extraterrestrial communication in the wake of the publication of Cocconi and Morrison's seminal paper and Project Ozma. In 1962, the prestigious National Academy Space Science Summer Study at Iowa State University produced a set of detailed recommendations for research in space biology, including the quest to find life elsewhere in the solar system, which was to entrench the subject within NASA's space program.1 At NASA's request, a study was initiated in June 1964 by a steering committee of the Space Science Board, which included Lederberg and Calvin, "to recommend to the government ... whether or not a biological exploration of Mars should be included in the nation's space program over the next few decades; and further, to outline what that program, if any, should be." The committee's conclusion that such an exploration merited "the highest scientific priority" increased the urgency to develop an unmanned spacecraft capable of Martian life detection.2 In 1968, the Space Science Board recommended the three key experiments that would be used aboard the Viking spacecraft to search for microorganisms on Mars. Two decades later, the Space Science Board's Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) urged that preparations be made to search in earnest for planetary systems around other stars.



1. National Academy of Sciences. A Review of Space Research: The Report of the Summer Study Conducted Under the Auspices of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences at the State University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, June 17–August 10, 1962. Wasgington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing office (1962).
2. Pittendrigh, C. S., Vishniac, W., and Pearman, J. P. T., eds. Biology and the Exploration of Mars: Report of a Study Held under the Auspices of the Space Science Board, National Acadamy of Sciences, National Research Council, 1964–1965. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1966).