Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
8 Space Science Program and Policy Issues As is apparent from the preceding chapters, research in chemical evolu- tion and planetary biology extends over many "classical" scientific disci- plines and brings together investigators from seemingly disparate areas. Over the last two decades, this field has developed to the point at which evolutionary themes on cosmological, chemical, and biological levels have become foundations from which studies are undertaken. With these com- mon evolutionary themes and the exposition of continuous cause and effect between evolving biological and planetary systems, communication across scientific disciplines has become at least as important as within the disci- plines themselves. Maintenance of this broad "mix" of biological and physi- cal sciences, and of ground- and space-based investigations, is unique to the space sciences and critical to the effective conduct of a vigorous national program in chemical evolution and planetary biology. The requirement for substantial interdisciplinary communication must be addressed if this program is to be fully successful. The following discus- sion is therefore aimed at strengthening and invigorating activities in this field. ACCESS TO MISSIONS The current efforts of NASA in chemical evolution and planetary biol- ogy are administered almost entirely by the Exobiology Program Office within the Life Sciences Division of the agency. On the other hand, plan- ning for, and implementation of, space missions not directly concerned with space medicine or space biology are conducted by other divisions of NASA. In turn, these missions depend largely on advice from scientists with inter- ests different from those discussed in this document. Nevertheless, many 130
SPACE SCIENCE PROGRAM AND POLICY ISSUES 131 data of direct relevance to planetary biology and chemical evolution have been derived from observations and measurements made for other scientific purposes. Although consideration has often been given to exobiology ob- jectives in the developmental mission plans, much stronger interaction is needed between mission planners and the exobiology science community. To enhance the utility of future missions for those areas of inquiry that are the subject of this report, the advice of qualified scientists should be util- ized in the planning and implementation of these missions. One aspect of this issue is that investigators interested in chemical evolu- tion and planetary biology are often precluded from making serious propos- als for space-borne experiments because specific hardware or even concepts for flight instrumentation are not available for evaluation at the time of payload selection. To a large extent, this situation does not extend to other branches of NASA, which have historically devoted significant resources to the development of concepts for flight instruments as part of their ongoing programs. The committee therefore urges NASA to encourage the timely development of instrumentation for potential use in space experiments in- volving chemical evolution and planetary biology, well in advance of pay- load selection, by setting aside specific funds for this purpose. MEASURES TO ENHANCE RESEARCH IN CHEMICAL EVOLUTION AND PLANETARY BIOLOGY Because of the essential role of space technology in many aspects of research in chemical evolution and planetary biology, almost all of the support for this field, and for integration of its various elements, is now borne by a single federal agency, NASA, through its grants and in-house activities. Nevertheless, other federal agencies, notably the NSF and NIH, support research that may be directly related to the overall goals of this program. NASA should explore mechanisms for closer interaction with its sister agencies in order to maximize the national efforts in this area, espe- cially in areas that might be jointly funded. Such interactions can serve to inform a much wider circle of scientists than might otherwise be reached of the goals, objectives, and opportunities of the NASA programs in chemical evolution and planetary biology and, at the same time, could bring new ideas and fresh approaches into the field. In this regard, the committee is conscious of the fact that potentially interested scientists are often unaware of NASA's goals in this area. Fur- thermore, many are poorly informed about the procedures used by NASA in its grants program. Under these circumstances, valuable scientific resources are being inadequately tapped by the agency and are either diverted to other agencies or lost altogether. NASA should devise ways to reach more broadly into the scientific community by delineating and publicizing its goals and
132 THE SEARCH FOR LIFE'S ORIGINS objectives and also by establishing more clearly the procedures through which entry can be made into the program. It is also important for NASA to educate the scientific community about the many areas of evolutionary biology in which data obtained from space missions have enhanced understanding of the course of evolution. NASA should make a greater effort to bring to the attention of the scientific com- munity the potential benefits to be derived from the use of space technology. For example, as discussed earlier, clues to the early terrestrial environment almost certainly exist on Mars, the Moon, and elsewhere in the solar sys- tem, and a more complete understanding of this environment may only be obtainable by probing bodies. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this field, there is an obvious need for frequent and sustained cross communication among the various disciplines that contribute to the overall goals of the program. The commit- tee acknowledges that interactions of this kind have taken place, but this activity needs to be intensified. To implement this need, NASA should establish procedures that will encourage more effective communication among molecular/evolutionary/biospheric biologists, paleontologists, astronomers, geologists, and planetary modelers both from within NASA centers and from the academic community. Opportunities for such interactions can be facilitated by NASA sponsorship of workshops, symposia, and innovative interdisciplinary research projects. Also, because the subject matter of this field cuts across both the physi- cal and the biological sciences, specific training in this area is not normally available to students as they prepare for their scientific careers, and young people entering the pool of scientific talent are less apt to seek careers in chemical evolution and planetary biology. To surmount this deficiency, NASA should develop a program of specific postdoctoral fellowships in the field by which candidates would be able to pursue advanced studies either at NASA in-house laboratories or with university specialists.