The NASA Astrobiology Program
Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary field that studies the origin of life, its evolution, distribution and future in the universe. The NASA Astrobiology Program is focused on understanding:
- How life began and evolved
- If life exists elsewhere in the universe
- What is the future of life on Earth and in the universe
The NASA Astrobiology Roadmap is a guide for researchers in Astrobiology. This roadmap, made in 2008, breaks down the 3 focus points of the NASA Astrobiology Program into 7 sub-goals:
Understand the nature and distribution of habitable environments in the Universe. Determine the potential for habitable planets beyond the Solar System, and characterize those that are observable.
Determine any past or present habitable environments, prebiotic chemistry, and signs of life elsewhere in our Solar System. Determine the history of any environments having liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources that might have sustained living systems. Explore crustal materials and planetary atmospheres for any evidence of past and/or present life.
Understand how life emerges from cosmic and planetary precursors. Perform observational, experimental, and theoretical investigations to understand the general physical and chemical principles underlying the origins of life.
Understand how life on Earth and its planetary environment have co-evolved through geological time. Investigate the evolving relationships between Earth and its biota by integrating evidence from the geosciences and biosciences that shows how life evolved, responded to environmental change, and modified environmental conditions on a planetary scale.
Understand the evolutionary mechanisms and environmental limits of life. Determine the molecular, genetic, and biochemical mechanisms that control and limit evolution, metabolic diversity, and acclimatization of life.
Understand the principles that will shape the future of life, both on Earth and beyond. Elucidate the drivers and effects of microbial ecosystem change as a basis for forecasting future changes on time scales ranging from decades to millions of years, and explore the potential for microbial life to survive and evolve in environments beyond Earth, especially regarding aspects relevant to US Space Policy.
Determine how to recognize signatures of life on other worlds and on early Earth. Identify biosignatures that can reveal and characterize past or present life in ancient samples from Earth, extraterrestrial samples measured in situ or returned to Earth, and remotely measured planetary atmospheres and surfaces. Identify biosignatures of distant technologies.