July 22, 1998 Leading scientists from around the world are meeting this week in a critical first step in planning NASA's emerging astrobiology program. In a three-day "roadmapping" session, participants will discuss development of a five-year strategic plan for astrobiology research, next-generation missions and technology requirements.
The goal of the workshop is to provide direction and set the tone for astrobiology research and its impact on NASA's missions, both in the near term and looking ahead to the year 2020. Astrobiology is the search for the origin, evolution and destiny of life in the universe. It involves research to gain understanding of the origins of life in the universe, the formation and evolution of habitable worlds, life's evolution and the biogeochemical cycles in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere, and the potential for biological evolution beyond an organism's planet of origin.
The roadmap team will define top-level mission and technology requirements to achieve astrobiology science goals and map these requirements onto NASA's future missions and technology development programs. Topics for discussion include life's molecular roots, the cosmic context for life, the origin of terrestrial life and the prospects for life beyond the planet of origin.
The three-day planning workshop is being held July 20-22, 1998, at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.
"Future Shock" author Alvin Toffler will lead a dialogue about the "fourth wave" and astrobiology. Other speakers will include Michael Meyer, astrobiology discipline scientist; Henry McDonald, Ames center director; David Morrison, Ames director of space; and Scott Hubbard, interim manager of the NASA Astrobiology Institute based at Ames.
Workshop attendees will include top multidisciplinary researchers from around the nation, including Nobel laureates Dr. Walter Gilbert of Harvard University and Dr. Stanley N. Cohen of the Stanford University School of Medicine. Other attendees will include National Academy of Science members and representatives from leading research institutions and universities. Represented disciplines will range from astronomy and astrophysics, to biology, chemistry and planetary geology. Scientists in all fields are working toward the common goal of discovering the role of life in the universe.
Members of NASA's recently formed virtual Astrobiology Institute will participate in this exercise. This highly interdisciplinary group comes from 11 selected institutions which include: Arizona State University; Carnegie Institution; Harvard University; Pennsylvania State University; Scripps Research Institute; the University of Colorado; the University of California, Los Angeles; Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory; Ames; and NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
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