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.


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.


Available at <>.


Available at <>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.


Available at <>. Last accessed April 27, 2005.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement