NASA should expand the search for extraterrestrial life and make astrobiology an integral part of the US space agency missions, according to experts from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).
“We are at a critical time for the exploration of extraterrestrial life in the Universe; discoveries and the development of technologies that allow us exciting opportunities in this field,” said Barbara Sherwood, a professor at the University of Toronto and a NASEM member.
On Wednesday, NASEM published a report that notes that, in order to advance the search for alien life in the Universe, NASA “must support research in a broader range of biomarkers and environments” in the context of its missions. Recent scientific advances in the field “provide many opportunities to strengthen the role of astrobiology in NASA missions and increase collaboration with other scientific fields and organizations.”
In this regard, Sherwood said NASA’s programs and missions “should reflect an approach dedicated to research and exploration of habitability in the subsoil of planets.”
“In light of recent discoveries on Earth, Mars, oceanic worlds and exoplanets, the report recommends a broader perspective that includes subsurface environments as targets for the search for life,” she said.
The US NASEM suggested NASA expand its search for extraterrestrial life
Sherwood said spectroscopic measurements and high-contrast imaging missions would allow, over the next two decades, the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres and the search for possible biomarkers for rocky exoplanets orbiting dwarf stars.
“Successful search strategies for alien life must integrate the idea that life does not have to be as we know it,” said Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
In his speech, Boss indicated that current estimates from different studies show that six out of ten stars have planets similar to the Earth, a data that also suggests that NASA must extend its missions to find extraterrestrial life.
The US NASEM are private non-profit institutions that develop “independent and objective” analyses and advise the US government on public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.