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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute
FUTURE MARS MISSIONS
Mark Allen (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) was stimulated by his membership in the NAI to adapt techniques for studying terrestrial photochemistry to the detection of trace gases in the martian atmosphere, and he was first author of the report “Is Mars Alive?” from the NAI Virtual Workshop on Methane on Mars held in March 2005.1 Allen’s Mars Scout (MARVEL) proposal was not selected for flight, but his instrument approach combined with excitement about the possible detection of methane on Mars (NAI Goddard Space Flight Center team and others) led to the selection by NASA of a trace gas science payload for the proposed 2013 Mars Science Orbiter. The MAVEN Mars Scout candidate mission (Bruce Jakosky, PI of the NAI team at the University of Colorado) also emerged from the interdisciplinary environment fostered by the NAI.
1M. Allen, B. Sherwood Lollar, B. Runnegar, D.Z. Oehlar, J.R. Lyons, C.E. Manning, and M.E. Summers, “Is Mars Alive?” EOS 87: 433-448, 2006.
(MAVEN) Scout proposal led by Bruce Jakosky, the PI of the NAI team at the University of Colorado. See Box 4.2 for more information.
Astrobiology in the NRC’s solar system exploration decadal survey report. Recognizing the increasing importance of astrobiology in planetary science, the NAI provided formal input to the NRC’s solar system exploration decadal survey, including a rationale for recognizing astrobiology as a central component, ways in which astrobiology interacts with the rest of solar system exploration, and a ranking of key missions. See Box 4.3 for more information.
ASTROBIOLOGY IN THE NRC’S SOLAR SYSTEMEXPLORATION DECADAL SURVEY REPORT
At the request of the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life, the NAI provided input on astrobiology to the NRC’s solar system exploration (SSE) decadal survey committee. Astrobiologists discussed the role of astrobiology in solar system exploration and the nature of flight missions that would contribute simultaneously to addressing the goals and objectives of solar system exploration and astrobiology. The SSE decadal survey committee took the input to heart and, in its report, described the importance of astrobiology as one of the fundamental underpinnings of solar system exploration.1 This embracing of astrobiology was consistent with the increased visibility that astrobiology was receiving as the intellectual centerpiece of the planetary exploration program. As put forward by the NAI, the highest-priority missions lined up remarkably well with those missions that were considered as having the highest priority for solar system exploration independent of the role of astrobiology. This correspondence can be seen as evidence of the numerous ways in which astrobiology science goals mesh with non-astrobiology goals designed to elucidate the formation and evolution of our planetary system. Thus the list of priority missions recommended by the NRC agreed closely with those put forward for astrobiology by the NAI.
1National Research Council, New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.