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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Assessment of the NASA ASTROBIOLOGY INSTITUTE Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Space Studies Board Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This study is based on work supported by the Contract NASW-01001 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency that provided support for the project. International Standard Book Number 13: 978-0-309-11497-4 International Standard Book Number 10: 0-309-11497-7 Cover: The background image of the face-on spiral galaxy M101 in Ursa Major was obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope by K.D. Kuntz (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), J. Mould (National Optical Astronomical Observatory), and Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana) and is courtesy of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The image of Mars in the upper left was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope by J. Bell (Cornell University), M. Wolff (Space Science Institute), and the Hubble Heritage Team at the Space Telescope Science Institute and is courtesy of NASA and ESA. The right-hand inset image of Earth’s limb and Hurricane Frances was taken by Astronaut M. Fincke aboard the International Space Station on September 1, 2004, and is courtesy of NASA. The left-hand inset image of limestone chimneys in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’s Lost City Hydrothermal Field is courtesy of the Institute for Exploration, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Washington, the Lost City Science Party, and NOAA. Cover design by Penny E. Margolskee Copies of this report are available free of charge from: Space Studies Board National Research Council 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet, http://www.nap.edu. Copyright 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council. www.national-academies.org
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute OTHER REPORTS OF THE SPACE STUDIES BOARD An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars (SSB with the Board on Life Sciences [BLS], 2007) Building a Better NASA Workforce: Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration (SSB with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board [ASEB], 2007) Decadal Science Strategy Surveys: Report of a Workshop (2007) Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (2007) Exploring Organic Environments in the Solar System (SSB with the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, 2007) The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems (SSB with BLS, 2007) A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Astrophysics Program (SSB with the Board on Physics and Astronomy, 2007) Portals to the Universe: The NASA Astronomy Science Centers (2007) The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon (2007) An Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs (2006) Assessment of NASA’s Mars Architecture 2007-2016 (2006) Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Venus Missions: Letter Report (2006) Distributed Arrays of Small Instruments for Solar-Terrestrial Research: Report of a Workshop (2006) Review of NASA’s 2006 Draft Science Plan: Letter Report (2006) Space Radiation Hazards and the Vision for Space Exploration (2006) The Astrophysical Context of Life (SSB with BLS, 2005) Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation (2005) Extending the Effective Lifetimes of Earth Observing Research Missions (2005) Preventing the Forward Contamination of Mars (2005) Principal-Investigator-Led Missions in the Space Sciences (2005) Priorities in Space Science Enabled by Nuclear Power and Propulsion (SSB with ASEB, 2005) Review of Goals and Plans for NASA’s Space and Earth Sciences (2005) Review of NASA Plans for the International Space Station (2005) Science in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration (2005) Limited copies of these reports are available free of charge from: Space Studies Board National Research Council The Keck Center of the National Academies 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20001 (202) firstname.lastname@example.org www.nationalacademies.org/ssb/ssb.html NOTE: Listed according to year of approval for release, which in some cases precedes the year of publication.
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute COMMITTEE ON THE REVIEW OF THE NASA ASTROBIOLOGY INSTITUTE JOHN M. KLINEBERG, Consultant, Redwood City, California, Chair LUANN BECKER, University of California, Santa Barbara YVONNE C. BRILL, Consultant, Skillman, New Jersey JACK D. FARMER, Arizona State University MONIKA E. KRESS, San Jose State University DAVID W. LATHAM, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics ANTONIO LAZCANO, National Autonomous University of Mexico CINDY L. VAN DOVER, Duke University Marine Laboratory Staff DAVID H. SMITH, Study Director ROBERT L. RIEMER, Senior Staff Officer RODNEY N. HOWARD, Senior Project Assistant CATHERINE A. GRUBER, Assistant Editor VICTORIA SWISHER, Research Associate ABIGAIL FRAEMAN, Research Assistant
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute SPACE STUDIES BOARD LENNARD A. FISK, University of Michigan, Chair A. THOMAS YOUNG, Lockheed Martin Corporation (retired), Vice Chair SPIRO K. ANTIOCHOS, Naval Research Laboratory DANIEL N. BAKER, University of Colorado STEVEN J. BATTEL, Battel Engineering CHARLES L. BENNETT, Johns Hopkins University ELIZABETH R. CANTWELL, Los Alamos National Laboratory ALAN DRESSLER, The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution JACK D. FELLOWS, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research FIONA A. HARRISON, California Institute of Technology TAMARA E. JERNIGAN, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory KLAUS KEIL, University of Hawaii MOLLY MACAULEY, Resources for the Future BERRIEN MOORE III, University of New Hampshire KENNETH H. NEALSON, University of Southern California JAMES PAWELCZYK, Pennsylvania State University SOROOSH SOROOSHIAN, University of California, Irvine RICHARD H. TRULY, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (retired) JOAN VERNIKOS, Thirdage, LLC JOSEPH F. VEVERKA, Cornell University WARREN M. WASHINGTON, National Center for Atmospheric Research CHARLES E. WOODWARD, University of Minnesota GARY P. ZANK, University of California, Riverside MARCIA S. SMITH, Director
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Preface In a letter sent to Space Studies Board (SSB) Chair Lennard Fisk on January 11, 2007, Mary Cleave, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), requested that the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Research Council (NRC) conduct a review to evaluate the progress made by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in developing the field of astrobiology, both from the perspective of NAI members and from that of the larger community of NASA-supported scientists. The goal of this review is to help guide NASA in assessing and shaping the future of the NAI, particularly in its preparation of a solicitation issued to help select future teams to carry the NAI into a second decade. NASA’s Astrobiology program is the scientific outgrowth of the public and scientific excitement generated by a series of new results from solar system exploration and astronomical research programs in the mid-1990s, together with parallel advances in the biological sciences. Instituted in 1997, NASA’s Astrobiology program focuses on research activities designed to understand the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. The program consists of four distinct elements: (1) grants programs designed to support individual investigators; (2) technological activities aimed at the development of new scientific instrumentation; (3) technological activities aimed at the field-testing of new scientific instruments; and (4) the NASA Astrobiology Institute, a consortium of geographically dispersed research groups (“lead centers” or “nodes”) conducting interdisciplinary research. The first three elements of the Astrobiology program are quite traditional in that they are designed to fund individual researchers following the peer-review of proposals written in response to annual announcements of opportunity. The NAI, however, was intended to be an experiment in the management of research efforts. The goal behind the creation of the NAI was to broaden and transform NASA’s preexisting activities related to the search for life in the universe. The NAI was to promote the formation of interdisciplinary teams that would address cross-cutting questions in novel ways that were deemed not practicable within the constraints of the existing grants program. The NAI was formed to produce the highest-quality research results while ensuring the infusion of astrobiology objectives into NASA missions, to build a coherent astrobiology community, and to provide associated education and outreach efforts to enable public access to and benefit from NASA-supported astrobiology research. Since its founding, the NAI has placed special emphasis on encouraging collaborative research among scientists, as well as providing insights to educators from a variety of different backgrounds. In response to a mandate contained in Section 314 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 and a subsequent request from NASA, the Space Studies Board and the Board on Life Sciences undertook a study in 2001 to assess NASA’s Astrobiology program. In particular, the study looked at the relationship between NASA’s Astrobiol-
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute ogy program and related activities funded by other federal agencies (e.g., the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy) and also research activities conducted by other public and private scientific institutions in the United States and overseas. The resulting report, Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology,1 gave a generally favorable review of the NASA Astrobiology program. However, the study committee concluded that insufficient time had elapsed to adequately address the key issue of whether or not the scientific contributions of the NAI were greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, did the unique organizational arrangements of the NAI represent a net plus or minus for science relative to what could be achieved if NAI’s funding were distributed among more traditional grants programs? The report recommended that “NASA should undertake a comprehensive review of the scientific and educational results of its Astrobiology program in general, and of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in particular, at the end of a decade of activity, in order to assess the longer-term effects of the founding of the new program and the new institute on the research area. This review would include analysis of the significant scientific contributions that have arisen from the program. It should be undertaken no later than 2008, when the NAI is a decade old” (p. 3). Following the receipt of funding from NASA in late-May 2007 to undertake the study requested by Dr. Cleave, the Space Studies Board established the ad hoc Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute in June 2007. The committee’s activities began with a conference call held on July 13 and continued at a meeting held in Sunnyvale, California, on July 25-27. Presentations and deliberations continued at a meeting held in Washington, D.C., on August 16-18 and concluded at a third and final meeting held in Costa Mesa, California, on August 31-September 1. In addition to presentations and discussions at its meetings, the committee solicited comments from all of the NAI’s current and former principal investigators and from leading astrobiologists at international organizations associated or affiliated with the NAI. In addition, the committee solicited input from past and present NAI postdoctoral fellows. A draft report was completed during the first week of September and sent to external reviewers for commentary in mid-September. A new draft responding to the reviewers’ comments was completed in late October, and the report was approved for release on November 20. The work of the committee was made easier thanks to the important presentations and comments provided by numerous individuals from a variety of public and private organizations. These include the following: Shige Abe, Marco Boldt, Wendy W. Dolci, David Morrison, Carl B. Pilcher, and Daniella Scalice (NASA Astrobiology Institute); James L. Green, Michael Meyer, and John D. Rummel (NASA, Science Mission Directorate); Jeffrey Bada (University of California, San Diego), John Baross (University of Washington), Baruch Blumberg (Fox Chase Cancer Center), Andre Brack (European Exo/Astrobiologie Network Association), David Des Marais (NASA Ames Research Center), David Deamer (University of California, Santa Cruz), Edna Devore (SETI Institute), Pascale Ehrenfreund (Leiden University), Todd Gary (Tennessee State University), Scott Hubbard (Stanford University), Bruce Jakosky (University of Colorado), Clark Johnson (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Andrew Knoll (Harvard University), Jonathan Lunine (University of Arizona), Rocco Mancinelli (SETI Institute), Michael Manga (University of California, Berkeley), Marcia McNutt (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), Victoria Meadows (University of Washington), Michael Mumma (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Hiroshi Ohmoto (Pennsylvania State University), Tullis C. Onstott (Princeton University), Anatoli Pavlov (Russian Astrobiology Center), John Peters (Montana State University), Francois Raulin (Groupement de Recherche en Exobiologie), Bruce Runnegar (University of California, Los Angeles), Timothy Slater (University of Arizona), Mitchell Sogin (Marine Biological Laboratory), Sean Solomon (Carnegie Institution of Washington), Woodruff T. Sullivan III (University of Washington), Roger Summons (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Carol Tang (California Academy of Sciences), Catherine Tsairides (Lockheed Martin), Margaret Turnbull (Space Telescope Science Institute), Malcolm Walter (Australian Center for Astrobiology), and Neville J. Woolf (University of Arizona). This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the authors and the NRC in making 1 National Research Council, Life in the Universe: An Assessment of U.S. and International Programs in Astrobiology, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. The committee wishes to thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: Sidney Altman (Yale University), Paul Falkowski (Rutgers University), Andrea Ghez (University of California, Los Angeles), Charles Kennel (University of California, San Diego), Eugene Levy (Rice University), H. Jay Melosh (University of Arizona), Kenneth Nealson (University of Southern California), Maxine Singer (Carnegie Institute of Washington), and David Spergel (Princeton University). Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Larry L. Smarr (University of California, San Diego). Appointed by the NRC, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Contents EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1 1 INTRODUCTION 5 Astrobiology at NASA, 5 The NASA Astrobiology Institute, 7 Current Status of NASA’s Astrobiology Program, 9 Notes, 15 2 INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH 17 NAI Contributions, 17 Relationship to Other Astrobiology Programs, 24 Balance of NAI Activities, 24 Recommendations for Future NAI Activities, 29 Notes, 32 3 TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF ASTROBIOLOGISTS 35 NAI Contributions, 35 Relationship to Other Astrobiology Programs, 38 Balance of NAI Activities, 39 Recommendations for Future NAI Activities, 39 Notes, 40 4 LEADERSHIP FOR CURRENT AND FUTURE SPACE MISSIONS 42 NAI Contributions, 42 Relationship to Other Astrobiology Programs, 47 Balance of NAI Activities, 47 Recommendations for Future NAI Activities, 48 Notes, 49
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Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute 5 USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 51 NAI Contributions, 51 Relationship to Other Astrobiology Programs, 54 Balance of NAI Activities, 54 Recommendations for Future NAI Activities, 54 Notes, 56 6 EDUCATION AND OUTREACH 57 NAI Contributions, 57 Relationship to Other Astrobiology Programs, 60 Balance of NAI Activities, 60 Recommendations for Future NAI Activities, 61 Notes, 62 APPENDIXES A Letter Requesting This Study 65 B Committee Biographies 67