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Astrobiology Template


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        Presented by
  Michael Meyer, NASA HQ
Astrobiology Discipline Scientist
  Origins and Solar System Exploration
• Astrobiology is a key cross-theme element of both
  Origins and Solar System Exploration
    – Astrobiology addresses concerns of major impact to
      Origins mission design
             – Determine what makes a planet habitable and how common
               these worlds are in the universe*.
             – Determine how to recognize the signature of life on other
    – Astrobiology represents a major, unifying scientific goal for
      Solar System exploration
             – Determine whether there is (or once was) life elsewhere in our
               solar system, particularly on Mars and Europa*.

All elements of the Astrobiology program in OSS have major
    bearing on one or both of these themes

                                                     *Astrobiology   Roadmap
Introduction - Astrobiology Roadmap
 How does life begin and evolve?
   Goals                                             Objectives
   • How life arose on the Earth                     • Sources of organics on Earth.
                                                     • Origin of life’s cellular components
   • Organization of matter into living systems      • Models for life
   • How life evolves                                • Genomic clues to evolution
   • Co-evolution of biosphere and Earth             • Linking planetary and biological evolution
                                                     • Microbial ecology

Is there life elsewhere in the universe?
   Goals                                             Objectives
    • Limits for life                                • Extremes of life
                                                     • Past and present life on Mars
    • Character and frequency of habitable planets   • Life’s precursors and habitats in outer solar system
    • Signatures of life on other worlds             • Natural migration of life
    • Past or present life in the solar system       • Origins of habitable planets
                                                     • Effects of climate and geology on habitability
                                                     • Extrasolar biomarkers
 What is life’s future on Earth and beyond?
   Goals                                             Objectives
   • Environmental change on Earth                   • Ecosystem response to rapid environmental
                                                     • change
   • Terrestrial life beyond Earth                   • Earth’s future habitability
                                                     • Bringing life with us beyond Earth
                                                     • Planetary protection
 Astrobiology News Briefs
 February 23, 2001: One-Handed Life
 Saghatelian, A., Yokobayashi, Y., Soltani, K., Ghadiri, M.R.; A Chiroselective Peptide Replicator,
 Nature, 409, 797-801, February, 2001
 Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute have created self-replicating molecules that
 produce only "left-handed" molecules or only "right-handed" molecules.The findings may
 help explain why life is based on left-handed amino acids.

                          January 30, 2001: Scientists Find Clues That Life’s Building Blocks Began in
                          Deep Space
                          Dworkin, J.P., Deamer, D.W., Sandford, S.A., Allamandola, L.J.; Self-assembling amphiphilic
                          molecules: Synthesis in simulated interstellar/precometary ices, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 98,
                          Issue 3, 815-819, January 30, 2001
                          Duplicating the harsh conditions of space in their laboratory, NASA scientists have created
                          primitive cells with membrane-like structures. These chemical compounds may have played
                          a part in the origin of life.

      January 18, 2001: Astrobiologists Find Evidence of Early Life on Land
   Watanabe, Y., Martini, J.E.J., Hiroshi, O.; Geochemical evidence for terrestrial ecosystems
                             2.6 billion years ago, Nature, 408, 574 - 578, 30 November 2000
Scientists with NASA's Astrobiology Institute (NAI) have discovered fossilized remnants
of microbial mats that developed on land between 2.6 billion and 2.7 billion years ago in
                                             the Eastern Transvaal district of South Africa.

       • Astrobiology News Briefs inaugurated 11/27/00
       • A feature of the NAI public website
       • Three new articles posted weekly; 200,000 page views/month
       • A joint activity of the Astrobiology Program and the NAI
Astrobiology News: Publications samples
        •Runnegar B. Loophole for snowball Earth. Nature 2000 May 25;405(6785):
        •Laval B, Cady SL, Pollack JC, McKay CP, Bird JS, Grotzinger JP, Ford DC,
        Bohm HR. Modern freshwater microbialite analogues for ancient dendritic
        reef structures. Nature 2000 Oct 5;407(6804): 626-629.
        •Watanabe Y, Martini JE, Ohmoto H. Geochemical evidence for terrestrial
        ecosystems 2.6 billion years ago. Nature 2000 Nov 30;408(6812): 574-578.
        •Reid RP, Visscher PT, Decho AW, Stolz JF, Bebout BM, Dupraz C, Macintyre
        IG, Paerl HW. Pinckney JL, Prufert-Bebout L, Steppe TF, DesMarais DJ. The
        role of microbes in accretion, lamination and early lithification of modern
        marine stromatolites. Nature 2000 Aug 31;406(6799):989-92

        •Weiss, BP, Kirschvink, JL, Baudenbacher, FJ, Vali, H, Peters, NT, MacDonald,
        FA, Widswo, JP. A low-temperature transfer of ALH84001 from Mars to
        Earth. Science 2000 Oct 27;290(5492): 791-795.
        • Cody, GD, Boctor, NZ, Filley, TR, Hazen, RM, Scott, JH, & Yoder, HS. A
        potential primordial source of carbonylated iron-sulfur catalysis and the
        synthesis of pyruvate. Science 2000 Aug 25;289(5483): 1337-1340
        •Banfield, JF, & Marshall, CR. Earth science and evolution: Genomics and the
        geosciences. Science 2000 Jan 28; 287(5453): 605-606.
        •Schoning K, Scholz P, Guntha S, Wu X, Krishnamurthy R, Eschenmoser A.
        Chemical etiology of nucleic acid structure: the alpha-threofuranosyl-(3'--
        >2') oligonucleotide system. Science 2000 Nov 17;290(5495):1347-51.
   Astrobiology Update
• Four new Lead Teams selected to join the NASA Astrobiology
    –   Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. V. Meadows
    –   Michigan State University, Dr. M. Thomashow
    –   University of Rhode Island, Dr. S. D’Hondt
    –   University of Washington, Dr. P. Ward
• Two additional International Affiliates join the NAI
    – United Kingdom Astrobiology Forum
    – Australian Centre for Astrobiology
• Initiated Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument
  Development Program
• NSF and NASA Collaboration on LExEn
   – Joint funding of a long-term study site in ultra-deep mines
       in South Africa
   – Atacama Desert research through Exobiology
• Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets
  will start in Fiscal Year 2002
• Committees
    – Astrobiology Task Force (subcommittee of SSAC)
    – NRC Committee on Origin and Evolution of Life
Astrobiology Program Elements
Research and Analysis
• Exobiology Program : Research centered on pathways leading to and
    from the origin of life, to determine the potential for life elsewhere in the
•   Evolutionary Biology : New research program to understand the
    physical and biological forces that affect biological evolution and the
    interaction of life with its environment
• NASA Specialized Centers of Research & Training (NSCoRT)
NASA Astrobiology Institute
•   Virtual institute whose members conduct interdisciplinary research as a
    community, geographically dispersed, interacting also with the national
    and international community
Technology & Development
•   Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development (ASTID)
     – Life-centered perspective in technology development, first set of proposals
       selected soon
•   Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP)
     – Program of campaigns to extreme environments to develop integrated
       systems and exploration savvy (start FY02)
   Exobiology Program
Goal: The goal of NASA's Exobiology program is to
  understand the origin, evolution, and distribution of
  life in the universe. Research is focused on tracing
  the pathways taken by the biogenic elements, leading
  from the origin of the universe through the major
  epochs in the evolution of living systems and their
  precursors. These epochs are:
        • Cosmic evolution of the biogenic compounds
        • Prebiotic evolution
        • Early evolution of life
        • Evolution of advanced life
 NASA Specialized Centers of Research &
• University/institute consortium fostering unique synergistic
  research and training opportunities.
   – Provides a major contribution through competitive fellowships
      for postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate research
   – Distributes knowledge to the general public and teachers
• Exobiology NSCORT at California Space Institute / UCSD
   – Focuses research and training centered on the origin of life,
      encompassing prebiotic chemistry and early evolution.
• A second NSCORT, supported with advent of Astrobiology new
  funds: The New York Center for Studies on the Origins of Life,
  started in 1998 at Rensselaer Polytechnique Institute.
   – Research covers disciplines ranging from organic molecules in
      space, delivery of organics through impacts, pre-biotic
      chemical evolution, and the biological work on introns
 NAI Introduction
• The NASA Astrobiology Institute Teams perform
  collaborative research in Astrobiology, and the Institute
  pioneers the concept of an interdisciplinary, distributed
• The NAI
   – selects peer-reviewed investigator-initiated research with a
     focus on developing an interactive and mutually supportive
     community of scientists
   – provides access points for this community to act as advisors
     and participants in NASA’s planning process, with emphasis
     on space exploration missions
   – enables collaborative activities in lab and field research, using
     information technology tools as needed
   – responds to professional and public audiences through science
     communications, education, and training
NAI Teams
Opportunities for Collaboration
• Cooperative Agreement Notices and augmentations
• Focus Groups
• Postdoctoral Fellowships
• Conferences
• Cross-team workshops/seminars/courses
• Field study travel
• Student travel and research
• Hosting international visitors
• Director’s Discretionary Fund (e.g. specialized
  equipment to be shared across teams)
• IT working group
• Education and Public Outreach working group
     NAI Education & Public Outreach
•   Teachers and Students
     – Educator Resource Guide
           • Classroom Lessons for Grades 5-10
           • 22,000 hardcopies to be distributed
           • Also available for download on the webpage
     – Other curriculum support and materials
     – 34 Workshops by 5 different NAI Teams
     – Educational Conferences
           • National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
           • National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM)
           • Towards Other Planetary Systems (NSF Workshop)
•   Public, Media, Museums, & Science Community
     – Webpage: http://nai.arc.nasa.gov
           • Ask An Astrobiologist : interactive site for users
           • Tremendous interest in astrobiology related careers
           • Astrobiology News Briefs jointly supported by
             NAI and Astrobiology Program
     – Television programs, lectures, museum exhibits
     – Science conferences
•   Astrobiology Training
     –   Graduate and undergraduate courses offered at NAI sites
     –   Current programs include 30 Undergraduate, 90 Graduate, & 40 Postdoctoral students
     –   NAI selected 6 Postdoc fellows last year, will select another 6; maintaining 12 slots
     –   NAI Central offers internships in science writing
   Astrobiology Technology

To move from our worlds to others,
  Astrobiology needs to:
• Discover the origin, evolution, and limits to life on Earth
• Develop capabilities to be adapted and applied to
  planetary exploration

• Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument
  Development (ASTID)
• Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring
  Planets (ASTEP)
Astrobiology Science and Technology
Instrument Development (ASTID)
• Goal: develop instrumentation
  capabilities to meet Astrobiology
  science requirements on future space
  flight missions, as well as unique
  Astrobiology science objectives on Earth
   – Advance state of the art of Astrobiology technologies
   – Allow development of scientific instruments or instrument
     components to the point where Astrobiology instruments could
     be credibly proposed to future flight opportunity announcements
   – Develop laboratory instruments designed to significantly advance
     Astrobiology science
• 67 Proposals received from initial NRA
   – Award of proposals expected late summer ‘01
From Our World To Others

  Astrobiology Science and
  Technology for Exploring
    the Planets (ASTEP)
Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring
Planets (ASTEP)
   • Entire culture of planetary exploration is undergoing a sea change
       – Moving from orbital surveys to surface exploration
       – New focus on detailed, extended characterization and in-situ analysis
       – Highly motivated by Astrobiology searches for evidence of life
   • This change in how we explore the planets requires new methods for
     science operations and new technical capabilities
       – Our total experience in planetary surface operations is based on just
         three data points
            • Viking 1&2 and Pathfinder - extended in-situ exploration is something new
              that we have not done before
       – We need to create a whole new knowledge base and technology toolkit
         for planetary surface operations.
       – We are beginning to look for rare and subtle phenomena. A new
         approach to planetary protection and sample handling is essential.
Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring
Planets (ASTEP)
   • Propose a new science-driven operations and technology initiative to
     enable a new generation of planetary exploration
       – Conduct world-class astrobiology research in extreme environments,
         which are used as planetary analogs
       – Create in-situ long-term exploration capabilities by developing advanced
         technologies through “concept-to-near-flight” implementation approach
       – Define operations with complete systems and testbeds, with the science
         community establishing acceptance criteria
       – Validate both in high-fidelity simulations and terrestrial field tests
   • Impact
       – Significant systems-level and field testing will contribute to overall risk
         reduction and ease transition of technologies to flight opportunities
       – Significant opportunities for student involvement in exploration, exciting
         a technologically competent next generation
       – Opportunities for significant technology commercialization
   Astrobiology Space Analogs
Research in Astrobiology space analogs will expand
  understanding of the origins and evolution of life on Earth
  and will enhance exploration of extraterrestrial
• Extreme environments harbor biological systems at the limits to life
   – techniques for finding extant and fossil evidence of life
• Proving ground to develop and test exploratory technologies in
  realistic, interactive modes
   – boost exploration capabilities
   – educate scientists and engineers in more subtle aspects of robotic
      exploration, and
   – promote intelligent innovation for instrumentation and robotic
      systems in exploration
• Represent microcosms of other potential worlds.
   – Catalogue of global biosignatures requires a combination of
      modeling, laboratory simulation, and ground-truth
• Additional Benefits - common ground for astrobiologists and
  engineers; NASA Astrobiology engaged in high visibility
  exploration research in anticipation of planetary missions
Astrobiology Science and Technology for
           Exploring Planets
   Using the Earth as a testbed for developing
   the Astrobiology science and technologies for
   planetary exploration
           •   Drilling for Life
           •   Dry Valley Surveyor
           •   Dry Valley Explorer
           •   Black Smoker Explorer
           •   Life in Chornobyl
           •   Volcanic Firewalker
           •   Vostok Penetrator
     Volcanic Firewalker
• The motivation : Ancient and active volcanoes exist throughout the
  solar system. They provide key ingredients for life-supporting
  environments (energy, chemistry and possibly liquid water). These
  may be high priority targets for astrobiology searches.
• The project: To validate science operations and technologies for
  remotely exploring volcanic regions (craters, fumeroles, lava tubes,
  etc.) and conduct searches for life signs. Utilize polar volcanoes as
  planetary analogs.
• The approach: Dante platforms have previously been deployed to
  polar volcanoes. Build from this capability to create more robust
  mobility system for more varied terrains. Transport “biology lab in a
  teacup” through the region for extended in-situ studies.
• Science and technology drivers:
    –   Mobility for rugged, unstructured terrains
    –   Small, lightweight biology instruments and laboratories
    –   Highly autonomous deployment and operations
    –   Mechanisms and instrumentation for brutal environments (thermal
        extremes, corrosives, impacts)
Volcanic Firewalker
     Vostok Penetrator
• The motivation: Sub-ice oceans on Europa may harbor life-supporting
  environments. Can such environments be accessed and explored?
  Can life forms, if present, be identified and characterized via remote
• The project: Utilize sub-ice polar lakes (such as Lake Vostok) as
  Europa analogs to conduct robotic exploration
• The approach: Evaluate ice penetration techniques (Philbert probes,
  ice drills, etc.) for low-power solutions. Evaluate technologies for
  robustly passing surface/ice and ice/water interfaces. Deploy system
  on surface, penetrate to depth, determine if life signs can be
  identified, or deploy aqua-bot for regional exploration if necessary.
• Science and technology drivers:
    – Completely autonomous deployment and operations
    – In-situ identification and characterization of life signs
    – Low power systems, or possible planetary power sources (tethers in
      Jovian electromagnetic field, etc.)
    – Sensors and instruments for submerged environments
        • Physical/chemical profiler in a tea cup
        • Laser-induced fluorescence surveyor
        • Amino acid chirality detector
Vostok Penetrator
• Astrobiology is scientifically productive
• Significant E/PO
   – Astrobiology News Briefs
   – Educator Resource Guide, “Life on Earth . . . and Elsewhere?”
• NASA Astrobiology Institute established and operational
   – Has already had scientific impact and effect on future missions
• Astrobiology continues to build a broad-based community
   – Second NAI General Meeting, April 2001
   – 2 Journals/2 Series in production
• Key technology development has started and opportunities
  identified for future study and mission impact
   – Astrobiology Science & Technology Instrument Development
   – Astrobiology Science & Technology for Exploring Planets
    Looking for Life
“On today’s Mars, the Abode of Life is likeliest to
be underground and cryptic, in deep liquid water
aquifers that we hope exist. Of course we must still
look for oases, but we cannot assume that we will
find one. In some ways the debate has really moved
little since the days of Flammarion and Lowell.
The most interesting information remains right at
the limit of resolution, be it metres in satellite
images of gullies, or nanometres in microscopic
images of magnetite crystals. Always life on Mars
seems just beyond the fields that we know.”
Zahnle, K. 2001. Decline and Fall of the Martian Empire. Nature 412:209-213


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