National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

AN ASTROBIOLOGY
STRATEGY FOR THE

Search for
Life in the Universe

Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe

Space Studies Board

Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

A Consensus Study Report of

images

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
Washington, DC
www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

This study is based on work supported by the Contract NNH17CB02B with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.

International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-48416-9
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-48416-2
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25252

Cover: Background photo is of the Milky Way over the Stirling Ranges in Western Australia. The photo was taken by Trevor Dobson on July 2, 2018, 400 km north of Perth, Australia. Original photo can be found online: https://www.flickr.com/photos/trevor_dobson_inefekt69/42428966514/.

Copies of this publication are available free of charge from:

Space Studies Board
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Additional copies of this publication are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.

Copyright 2019 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

Suggested Citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. https://doi.org/10.17226/25252.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

Image

The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president.

The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.

The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.

Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.nationalacademies.org.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

Image

Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.

Proceedings published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chronicle the presentations and discussions at a workshop, symposium, or other event convened by the National Academies. The statements and opinions contained in proceedings are those of the participants and are not endorsed by other participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.

For information about other products and activities of the National Academies, please visit www.nationalacademies.org/about/whatwedo.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

COMMITTEE ON ASTROBIOLOGY SCIENCE STRATEGY FOR THE SEARCH FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE

BARBARA SHERWOOD LOLLAR, University of Toronto, Chair

SUSHIL K. ATREYA, University of Michigan

ALAN P. BOSS, Carnegie Institution of Washington

PAUL G. FALKOWSKI, NAS,1 Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick

JACK D. FARMER, Arizona State University

OLIVIER GUYON, University of Arizona

GERALD F. JOYCE, NAS/NAM,2 Salk Institute for Biological Studies

JAMES F. KASTING, NAS, Pennsylvania State University

VICTORIA S. MEADOWS, University of Washington

PHILIP M. NECHES, NAE,3 Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator

CARL B. PILCHER, Blue Marble Space Institute of Science

NILTON O. RENNÓ, University of Michigan

KARYN L. ROGERS, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

BRITNEY E. SCHMIDT, Georgia Institute of Technology

ROGER SUMMONS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

FRANCES WESTALL, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

SHELLEY A. WRIGHT, University of California, San Diego

Staff

DAVID H. SMITH, Senior Program Officer, Study Director

SARAH C. BROTHERS, Associate Program Officer

ANESIA WILKS, Program Coordinator

MIA BROWN, Research Associate

LAURA CUMMINGS, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern

CARSON BULLOCK, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern

JONATHAN LUTZ, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern

___________________

1 Member, National Academy of Sciences.

2 Member, National Academy of Medicine.

3 Member, National Academy of Engineering.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

SPACE STUDIES BOARD

FIONA HARRISON, NAS,1 California Institute of Technology, Chair

JAMES H. CROCKER, NAE,2 Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (retired), Vice Chair

GREGORY P. ASNER, NAS, Carnegie Institution for Science

JEFF M. BINGHAM, Consultant

ADAM BURROWS, NAS, Princeton University

MARY LYNNE DITTMAR, Dittmar Associates

JEFF DOZIER, University of California, Santa Barbara

JOSEPH FULLER JR., Futron Corporation (retired)

SARAH GIBSON, National Center for Atmospheric Research

VICTORIA HAMILTON, Southwest Research Institute

CHRYSSA KOUVELIOTOU, NAS, George Washington University

DENNIS P. LETTENMAIER, NAE, University of California, Los Angeles

ROSALY M. LOPES, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

STEPHEN J. MACKWELL, Universities Space Research Association

DAVID J. MCCOMAS, Princeton University

LARRY PAXTON, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory

ELIOT QUATAERT, University of California, Berkeley

BARBARA SHERWOOD LOLLAR, University of Toronto

HARLAN E. SPENCE, University of New Hampshire

MARK H. THIEMENS, NAS, University of California, San Diego

ERIKA WAGNER, Blue Origin

PAUL WOOSTER, Space Exploration Technologies

EDWARD L. WRIGHT, NAS, University of California, Los Angeles

Staff

MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director (until March 2, 2018)

RICHARD ROWBERG, Interim Director (March 2 to August 6, 2018)

COLLEEN HARTMAN, Director (from August 6, 2018)

CARMELA J. CHAMBERLAIN, Administrative Coordinator

TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations

CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate

MARGARET KNEMEYER, Financial Officer

___________________

1 Member, National Academy of Sciences.

2 Member, National Academy of Engineering.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

Preface

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. It is an inherently interdisciplinary field that encompasses astronomy, biology, geology, heliophysics, and planetary science, including complementary laboratory activities and field studies conducted in a wide range of terrestrial environments. Combining inherent scientific interest and public appeal, the search for life in the solar system and beyond provides a scientific rationale for many current and future activities carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other national and international agencies and organizations.

In 2017, Congress directed NASA to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to develop a science strategy for astrobiology that would outline key scientific questions, identify the most promising research in the field, and indicate the extent to which the mission priorities in existing decadal surveys address the search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe (see Appendix A). In response to this congressional mandate, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate approached the Space Studies Board (SSB) with a request to carry out this study (see Appendix B). While retaining the core language of the law, the statement of task ultimately agreed upon between SSB and NASA incorporated additional tasks relating to the specific programmatic and scientific context of the agency’s various astrobiology-related endeavors, which are most prominently detailed in the 2015 NASA Astrobiology Strategy.1 Indeed, both the SSB and NASA regarded the nature and timing of the request to be particularly fortuitous in that the results of the study would provide important input to the next decadal surveys in astronomy and astrophysics and planetary sciences, due to start in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Doubly fortuitous was the fact that the same congressional language also mandated that a similar strategy be developed for exoplanet exploration. Given close scientific ties between the astrobiology and exoplanet community, as well as the parallel timelines of the dual studies, the SSB and NASA agreed that the astrobiology and exoplanet committees should collaborate to the maximum degree feasible.

The discussions between NASA and the National Academies on the details of the task to be undertaken by the SSB converged on the following charge:

___________________

1 NASA, NASA Astrobiology Strategy 2015, https://nai.nasa.gov/media/medialibrary/2016/04/NASA_Astrobiology_Strategy_2015_FINAL_041216.pdf.

Page viii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

In preparation for and as an input to the upcoming decadal surveys in astronomy and astrophysics and planetary science, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will appoint an ad hoc committee to carry out a study of the state of the science of astrobiology as it relates to the search for life in the solar system and extrasolar planetary systems. The study will have the following objectives:

  • Take account of and build on NASA’s current Astrobiology Strategy 2015;
  • Outline key scientific questions and technology challenges in astrobiology, particularly as they pertain to the search for life in the solar system and extrasolar planetary systems;
  • Identify the most promising key research goals in the field of the search for signs of life in which progress is likely in the next 20 years;
  • Discuss which of the key goals could be addressed by U.S. and international space missions and ground telescopes in operation or in development;
  • Discuss how to expand partnerships (interagency, international and public/private) in furthering the study of life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe;
  • Make recommendations for advancing the research, obtaining the measurements, and realizing NASA’s goal to search for signs of life in the universe

In the course of conducting this study, the committee will consider and regularly consult with the concurrent study “Exoplanet Science Strategy,” in the area of assessing habitability, searching for signs of life, and other relevant areas of scientific overlap. Also the committee will not revisit or redefine the scientific priorities or mission recommendations from previous decadal surveys.

To address this statement of task, the National Academies formally established the Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe in the fall of 2017. The committee held its first meeting at the National Academies’ Beckman Center in Irvine, California, on January 16-18, 2018. Subsequent meetings were held in Washington, D.C., at the National Academy of Sciences and the Keck Center on March 6-8 and April 25-27, respectively.

In addition, the committee solicited community input in the form of white papers (see Appendix C). A total of 53 white papers originating from members of academia, employees of the federal government, and members of the general public were received and considered by the committee.

The astrobiology committee was able to have a significant degree of engagement and coordination with the exoplanet committee during the study. A co-chair of the exoplanet committee attended the first meeting of the astrobiology committee. Subsequently, a joint session of both committees was held on March 7, 2017, during the astrobiology committee’s second and the exoplanet committee’s first meeting. In addition, one member of the astrobiology committee also served as a member of the exoplanet committee, and SSB staff associated with the study attended the meetings of both committees. Furthermore, a working group composed of four members of each committee held three closed-session teleconferences to exchange ideas and review relevant parts of each report.

A complete draft of the committee’s report was sent to external reviewers for comment on June 20. A revised draft was assembled in July and August and was approved for release by the National Academies on September 20, 2018.

This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.

We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: John Baross, University of Washington; Courtney Dressing, University of California, Berkeley; Colin Goldblatt, University of Victoria, Canada; Martha Grover, Georgia Institute of Technology; Jonathan Lunine, NAS,2 Cornell University; Paul Mahaffy, NASA

___________________

2 Member, National Academy of Sciences.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

Goddard Space Flight Center; John Rummel, SETI Institute; Gary Ruvkun, NAS/NAM,3 Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital; and Norman H. Sleep, NAS, Stanford University.

Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Louis J. Lanzerotti, NAE,4 New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.

___________________

3 Member, National Academy of Medicine.

4 Member, National Academy of Engineering.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×

This page intentionally left blank.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R1
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R2
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R3
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R4
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R5
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R6
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R7
Page viii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R8
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R9
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R10
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R11
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25252.
×
Page R12
Next: Summary »
An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $80.00 Buy Ebook | $64.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. It is an inherently interdisciplinary field that encompasses astronomy, biology, geology, heliophysics, and planetary science, including complementary laboratory activities and field studies conducted in a wide range of terrestrial environments. Combining inherent scientific interest and public appeal, the search for life in the solar system and beyond provides a scientific rationale for many current and future activities carried out by the National Aeronautics and Science Administration (NASA) and other national and international agencies and organizations.

Requested by NASA, this study offers a science strategy for astrobiology that outlines key scientific questions, identifies the most promising research in the field, and indicates the extent to which the mission priorities in existing decadal surveys address the search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe. This report makes recommendations for advancing the research, obtaining the measurements, and realizing NASA’s goal to search for signs of life in the universe.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!