Over the next five years, NASA and seven partner institutions will be taking on new projects to help paint a more complete picture about how life comes to be in the universe. The projects include preparing to bring back samples of the Martian terrain to Earth, investigating the role of comets and asteroids in delivering water and organic compounds around the solar system and researching how our own planet has managed to sustain life for so much of its history.
This week, NASA announced the winners of its seventh Cooperative Agreement Notice grant competition (CAN7), who will receive $50 million between them to conduct their research.
There are no plans to build a Starship Enterprise to hop from galaxy to galaxy in search of aliens among the projects, rather they will all take place here on Earth.
A team at the SETI Institute will be looking into the best ways to ensure that a planned 2020 NASA mission to bring back samples from Mars selects the ideal scoops of Maritan soil or rock and takes the best care of that precious cargo. Another project based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. will use natural hydrothermal chimney systems on our own planet as models to investigate how conditions on icy worlds such as Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus might be able to support life.
A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder will examine the potential of how rocks might power life on planets such as Mars when their chemical energy is released through interaction with water. Others will look at how Earth’s history might hold key secrets to the search for E.T., like a University of California at Riverside project to examine the history of oxygen in our own atmosphere and oceans.
“The intellectual scope of astrobiology is vast, from understanding how our planet went from lifeless to living, to understanding how life has adapted to Earth’s harshest environments, to exploring other worlds with the most advanced technologies to search for signs of life,” said Mary Voytek, director of NASA’s astrobiology program.
Each project team will receive about $8 million and join five continuing astrobiology project teams already participating in the program at the University of Washington in Seattle; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and University of Southern California, Los Angeles.