Searching for Life in the Solar System ... And Beyond

A Research Discussion Meeting
London, UK - 31 October 1996


David J DesMarais, NASA Ames Research Center

NASA will indeed conduct a more active search for life beyond Earth. Research on the Martian meteorites will be augmented by $2 million to contributed equally by NASA and NSF. The science strategy for the NASA Mars Surveyor Program now places a much higher priority on the search for evidence of life, particularly fossil evidence. This program features two launches per opportunity (every two years, starting this November). The focus on Exobiology emphasises high resolution multispectral orbital mapping to locate key aqueous sedimentary minerals, the exploration of ancient terrains by capable rovers, and the need for multiple sample return missions.

A meeting will be held November 12-14 to plan a program to explore potential subsurface oceans on Europa.

This past June, Ames Research Center hosted the "Blue Dot Workshop - Spectroscopic Search for Life on Extrasolar Planets". The Workshops emphasised the biogeochemistry of gases, the chemistry of spectroscopy of planetary atmospheres, and the remote sensing of planetary atmospheres and surfaces. In particular, the Workshop addressed definitive biological indicators of life in addition to the presence of abundant free oxygen and ozone. Incidentally, two spacecraft relevant to the search have been conceptualised. The "Kepler" craft could detect stellar occultations by earth-sized planets in other solar systems. "The Planet Finder" could additionally perform analyses of extrasolar planetary atmospheres.

Recent political developments indicate that at least an economically-priced baseline program for the exploration of prospective extraterrestrial habitable environments will continue for the foreseeable future.