has not, in general, prioritized its recommendations, it believes that this one is of the highest importance. The committee suggests the following actions to implement this recommendation:

  • The NAI focus groups have suffered from a lack of stable leadership and sustained activity, despite their demonstrated value as open community forums for the exchange of ideas and as venues whereby the NAI can take a leadership role within the larger space science community. The creation and continued support of focus groups should be strongly promoted and their performance critically evaluated at periodic intervals by NAI Central and the NAI Executive Council in strategic areas, especially those related to NASA missions and the scientific goals outlined in the Astrobiology Roadmap, to make sure that they remain responsive to NASA needs.

  • Securing a tie to NASA flight programs is critical to the future of the field of astrobiology because the public is very interested in following NASA missions, and making the latest measurements and information widely available in a timely fashion allows the public to share in the discoveries and perhaps help determine the future directions NASA should pursue. In this context, the NAI should continue to promote a vigorous outreach program.

  • The NAI should provide scientific recommendations in areas of mission strategy to NASA. It is critical that the exploration of the Moon and of Mars have a very firm scientific justification, and the astrobiology community, through the NAI, should take the lead in providing roadmaps outlining scientific goals, objectives, investigations, and priorities for these endeavors. As progress is made in addressing the key questions in astrobiology, important information such as improvements in scientific understanding of how life evolved on Earth should be factored into specific strategies for how to explore other planets. A continuous updating of the state-of-the-art knowledge founded on ground-based results, improved theories, and the latest astrobiology thinking as it relates to the details of planned missions would help ensure that NASA missions are as productive as possible. The focus groups are an appropriate mechanism for undertaking such activities.

  • The NAI director has an important role to play as the de facto point of contact between the astrobiology community and relevant NASA flight programs. As such, the director should consult with the teams responsible for current and future flight programs and help to identify the most appropriate sources of astrobiological advice for their respective activities. Similarly, the NAI director should actively encourage NAI and non-NAI astrobiologists to serve on mission planning activities, focus groups, and mission science teams.

Recommendation: In selecting new nodes, the NAI should give more weight to the potential contribution of the proposed research to future NASA missions. Specifically, in the evaluation of proposals for new nodes, the NAI should require the proposed research program to demonstrate relevance to potential NASA missions that, if successful, would provide insight that can be translated into enhanced mission activities.



1. National Research Council, New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, pp. 157-158.


2. National Research Council, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001, pp. 157-158.


3. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004, pp. 4-13.


4. See, for example, D.J. McCleese and the Mars Advanced Planning Group 2006, Robotic Mars Exploration Strategy 2007-2016, JPL-400-1276, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, 2006, pp. 7-9. Also see, D.W. Beaty, M.A. Meyer, and the Mars Advanced Planning Group 2006, 2006 Update to Robotic Mars Exploration Strategy 2007-2016, unpublished white paper, posted November 2006 by the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group at http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports/index.html.


5. See, for example, National Research Council, Assessment of NASA’s Mars Architecture 2007-2016, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, pp. 11-12.


6. National Research Council, The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.

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