On September 29, NASA described its astrobiology program to a Congressional House Committee, emphasizing its need for a joint effort from varied academic disciplines and the development of new technology and instrumentation.
Difficult problems mentioned included how to detect life forms unlike those on Earth and how to prevent cross contamination between Earth and other moons and planets. Astrobiology could help us understand how life evolved on Earth, if we detected actual life forms elsewhere.
Studies listed by NASA included a search for habitable environments within and beyond our solar system, evidence of prebiotic chemistry and life, and life’s potential for adapting to environmental challenges.
Hundreds of astrobiologists worked together to define “goals and objectives” for astrobiology research. Current work was described in “Astrobiology Strategy,” a 250 page document put together by JPL’s Lindsay Hays as editor-in-chief.
Six major topics discussed were
1)identifying the non-biological source of organic compounds,
2) the role of macromolecules in the origin of life and how they are synthesized,
3) how complexity increases in early life,
4) how life and environment change together and co-evolve,
5) finding and exploring habitable environments and signs of life, and
6) building habitable worlds.
Key research questions conclude the report and offer challenges and opportunities, including the need to “…break traditional boundaries between the physical sciences and other areas of human inquiry….” What is not included is the philosophical impact that finding other worlds and exolife might have on human beings, a topic Caleb Scharf covers thoroughly in his book The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilites—a readable overview of astronomy and all the related sciences it draws on.
Author of The Archives of Varok
The View Beyond Earth (Book 1. Rewrite of A Place Beyond Man 1975)
The Webs of Varok (Book 2.)