HPA to design labs for samples from Mars17th July 2008
The European Space Agency recently announced that they had appointed the SEA (Group) Ltd to lead a team of experts, including the Health Protection Agency, to define the requirements and initial concept for a Biocontainment Facility to safely handle any samples which may be brought back from Mars.
The Mars sample return mission is a goal of the European Space Agency and under international treaty it is mandatory that samples from Mars or other planets are sealed off from the terrestrial environment until they have been tested for the presence of life or fossil life-forms. It is also important that any samples returned are not contaminated by the earth’s environment.
The Health Protection Agency has over 50 years experience in dealing safely with a range of dangerous microbes in high containment laboratories, including new diseases or previously unknown organisms. In addition, it manufactures a number of pharmaceutical products in specialist clean rooms. This means the Agency is ideally placed to recommend appropriate control measures to ensure safe handling of any samples that are brought back from Mars and to assist in the design because of its experience in safely containing microbes, as well as protecting sterile products from environmental contamination.
Welcoming the announcement of the contract, Justin McCracken, Chief Executive of the Health Protection Agency said: “This programme will develop new concepts and explore new ways of working. The knowledge gained from this will in turn enable us to improve and enhance our own containment strategies in relation to rather less exotic but equally sensitive materials in the future.”
Together the consortium members (SEA (group) Ltd, the Health Protection Agency, Bovis Lend Lease UK, Gravatom Engineering System Ltd and the Natural History Museum) will be able to combine their individual expertise to design and develop a cutting edge concept for future construction, with the Agency receiving up to 200,000 Euros from the total 500,000 Euros for the entire contract.
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