The mandate to carry out this study originated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which stated:
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10), Section 509 SEC. 509. ASTROBIOLOGY STRATEGY.
- IN GENERAL.—The Administrator shall enter into an arrangement with the National Academies 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.
- RECOMMENDATIONS.—The strategy shall include recommendations for coordination with international partners.
- USE OF THE STRATEGY.—The Administrator shall use the strategy developed under subsection (a) in planning and funding research and other activities and initiatives in the field of Astrobiology.
- REPORT TO CONGRESS.—Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the National Academies shall submit to the Administrator and to the appropriate committees of Congress a report containing the strategy developed under subsection (a).
In response to this congressional mandate, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Science Mission Directorate sent the following letter to the chair of the Space Studies Board:
Dr. Fiona Harrison
Chair, Space Studies Board
National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
500 5th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Dr. Fiona Harrison,
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2017 (Section 509) requires NASA to contract with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) to develop 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. The strategy will be used to in planning and funding research and other activities and initiatives in the field of astrobiology; and to provide a foundation for future activities and initiatives related to the search for life in the universe. NASA requests that the NAS perform a study with the following charge.
In preparation for and as an input to the upcoming decadal surveys in astronomy and astrophysics and planetary science, the National Academy 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 the 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 overtop. Also the committee will not revisit or redefine the scientific priorities or mission recommendations from previous decadal surveys.
In order for NASA to be able to meet the Congressional mandate of reporting no later than 18 months after enactment, NASA must receive the Academy’s findings no later than August 2018.
I request that the National Academics submit a plan for execution of the proposed review by the Space Studies Board. Once agreement on the scope, cost, and schedule of the proposed study has been achieved, the contracting officer will issue a task order for implementation. We look forward to having the Board’s inputs to this vital activity. The point of contact within the Science Mission Directorate will be Dr. Jeffrey Newmark, who can be reached at (202)-358-0684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas H. Zurbuchen, Ph.D.
Science Mission Directorate