2
Related Efforts

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL’S LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE REPORT

In response to the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 and a subsequent request from Edward J. Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of Space Science, the Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life was given the task of assessing the state of the NASA astrobiology program. The resulting report, Life in the Universe,1 found that while efforts in astrobiology were dominated at that time by the biological and geological sciences, “the long-term success of astrobiology in addressing its objectives [would] depend on a deeper and more extensive exchange of ideas with the traditional space sciences.” The report recommended that NASA foster more links between its astrobiology program and its Origins program. The current study is being undertaken in part to follow up on this perspective and this particular recommendation of Life in the Universe. More details of the report Life in the Universe are given in Appendix A.

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION

Origins Roadmap

As part of the NASA strategic planning process, the Origins theme in the Office of Space Science’s Astronomy and Physics Division recently revised its roadmap.2 Topics that overlap with the enterprise of astrobiology are woven throughout the document. Among the high-level questions to be addressed are these: Where did we come from? Are we alone? More specifically, the Origins program looks at issues such as the formation of stars, galaxies, and the heavy elements that are arguably relevant to the

1  

National Research Council. 2003. Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology. Space Studies Board and Board on Life Sciences. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

2  

Available at <http://origins.jpl.nasa.gov/library/roadmap03/>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 11
The Astrophysical Context of Life 2 Related Efforts NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL’S LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE REPORT In response to the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 and a subsequent request from Edward J. Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of Space Science, the Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life was given the task of assessing the state of the NASA astrobiology program. The resulting report, Life in the Universe,1 found that while efforts in astrobiology were dominated at that time by the biological and geological sciences, “the long-term success of astrobiology in addressing its objectives [would] depend on a deeper and more extensive exchange of ideas with the traditional space sciences.” The report recommended that NASA foster more links between its astrobiology program and its Origins program. The current study is being undertaken in part to follow up on this perspective and this particular recommendation of Life in the Universe. More details of the report Life in the Universe are given in Appendix A. NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION Origins Roadmap As part of the NASA strategic planning process, the Origins theme in the Office of Space Science’s Astronomy and Physics Division recently revised its roadmap.2 Topics that overlap with the enterprise of astrobiology are woven throughout the document. Among the high-level questions to be addressed are these: Where did we come from? Are we alone? More specifically, the Origins program looks at issues such as the formation of stars, galaxies, and the heavy elements that are arguably relevant to the 1   National Research Council. 2003. Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology. Space Studies Board and Board on Life Sciences. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 2   Available at <http://origins.jpl.nasa.gov/library/roadmap03/>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.

OCR for page 11
The Astrophysical Context of Life broader astrobiological context, along with issues such as the origin and evolution of planets, the search for life beyond our solar system, and the physical and chemical conditions necessary for life to originate. These issues are indistinguishable from some of the central issues of astrobiology. More details of the Origins Roadmap and the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap3 are given in Appendix A. The committee returns to the overlap between NASA’s Origins theme and the general astrobiology mission in Chapter 3. Cosmochemistry NASA’s Cosmochemistry program4 supports investigations of extraterrestrial materials such as meteorites, cosmic dust, and lunar samples. These investigations study the geochemistry of our solar system bodies—planets; satellites, including the Moon; and small solar system bodies—with the goal of understanding the origin of our solar system and the processes by which its planets and small bodies have evolved to their present states. The Cosmochemistry program supports sample-focused research projects that promote exploration of our solar system or that develop techniques for such further exploration. The projects include measurements of mineral compositions, major and trace element chemistry, isotopic compositions, radiometric ages, magnetism, and radiation exposure effects; petrologic studies of extraterrestrial materials and laboratory studies of phase stability, chemical partitioning, and other processes necessary to interpret planetary data; and the synthesis of previously obtained geochemical data. The program sometimes supports research on terrestrial analog samples that addresses key geochemical processes in early planetary evolution, terrestrial history in terms of general solar system processes, and reasons for the different ways the various planetary bodies—including Earth, the Moon, and parent bodies of meteorites—evolved. Space Radiation and Human Health The Biomedical Research and Countermeasures (BR&C) program5 is a research program to identify and characterize health, environmental, and other operational human biomedical risks associated with living in space and the strategies, tools, or technologies to eliminate or mitigate those risks. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute consortium was instituted in 1997 to pursue the knowledge and technologies required for long-duration spaceflight, including specific countermeasures. Studies exploring the effects of the space-radiation environment on human health, especially its propensity to cause cancer and to damage the central nervous system, are being carried out by investigators affiliated with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. In particular, studies on the effects of protons and heavy ions are under way at Loma Linda University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, respectively. Although the purpose of this program is biomedical, the fundamental basis for it is the ubiquity of astronomical irradiation. 3   Available at <http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/roadmap>. 4   Available at <http://research.hq.nasa.gov/code_s/nra/current/NNh04ZSS001n/appendB_2.html>. Last accessed April 27, 2005. 5   Available at <http://spaceresearch.nasa.gov/research_projects/biomedical.html>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.

OCR for page 11
The Astrophysical Context of Life OTHER AGENCIES National Science Foundation Life in Extreme Environments The Life in Extreme Environments (LExEn) program was a successful interdisciplinary program run from 1997 to 1999 by the Directorates for Biological Sciences, Engineering, Geosciences, and Mathematical and Physical Sciences and the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation (NSF). This program placed heavy demands on both the financial resources and, especially, the personnel of the NSF, since neither new funds nor new personnel to manage the complex cross-disciplinary effort were made available. The success of the program was a credit to the dedicated NSF staff who worked so hard on it. (See Appendix B for additional information.) RIDGE 2000 The Ridge Interdisciplinary Global Experiments (RIDGE) program6 is designed to support research aimed at understanding the geological, chemical, biological, and physical oceanographic interactions between the oceans and hydrothermal circulation of seawater through the ocean crust. The RIDGE program supports a substantial amount of work that is related to the astrobiological topics of the origin of life and extremophiles. Polar Programs The NSF Office of Polar Programs—in particular, the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP7)—support research that can be done exclusively in Antarctica or that can be done best from Antarctica. The NSF is currently participating in NASA’s review of the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) proposals, which support research aimed at detailed, collaborative analysis of Earth’s extreme environments in order to better understand analogous systems elsewhere. The Antarctic is one of those environments. Successful ASTEP Antarctic proposals will require the logistical support of the Office of Polar Programs. Assembling the Tree of Life The overall goal of NSF’s Assembling the Tree of Life activity8 is the construction of a framework phylogeny for all 1.7 million described species on Earth. Phylogeny, the genealogical map for all lineages of life on Earth, provides an overall framework for facilitating information retrieval and biological prediction. The aim of the Tree of Life activity is to resolve phylogenetic relationships for large groups of organisms on the Tree of Life and to improve understanding of the evolutionary processes that have operated to shape the history of life on Earth. The Tree of Life activity will be carried out by large teams working across institutions and disciplines. 6   Available at <http://www.ridge2000.bio.psu.edu/>. Last accessed April 27, 2005. 7   Available at <http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jps?div=ANT>. Last accessed April 27, 2005. 8   Available at <http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2005/nsf05523/nsf05523.htm>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.

OCR for page 11
The Astrophysical Context of Life Department of Energy The Genomics:GTL program (formerly the Genomes to Life9 program) of the U.S. Department of Energy is intended to use the new genomic data and high-throughput technologies for studying the proteins encoded by the genome to explore the amazingly diverse natural capabilities of microbes. Progress in these areas is also likely to be important for the astrobiological goals of understanding the origin and evolution of life. (Additional details can be found in Appendix B.) Astrobiology in Europe The European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA)10 was created in 2001 to coordinate the different national research centers and to promote research in astrobiology in Europe. EANA is affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Collaborative research areas in Europe’s astrobiology network include cosmochemistry, star and planetary formation, the chemistry of the origin of life, terrestrial life as a reference, and the search for habitats and signatures of life beyond Earth. (Additional information about astrobiology research in Europe can be found in Appendix B.) 9   Available at <http://doegenomestolife.org>. Last accessed April 27, 2005. 10   Available at <http://www.graz-astrobiology.oeaw.ac.at/eana.html>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.