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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Feb > Feb 1

NASA's Plans In Search For Alien Life

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose@get2net.dk>
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 19:11:09 +0100 (MET)
Fwd Date: Mon, 01 Feb 1999 10:10:59 -0500
Subject: NASA's Plans In Search For Alien Life

Source: Reuters via CNN,




NASA's search for space life begins on Earth

[Image: Artist's conception of the Europa Orbiter]   

January 29, 1999

Web posted at: 5:14 p.m. EST (2214 GMT)

ANAHEIM, California (Reuters) -- NASA's search for life beyond
the planet may stretch to Mars and Jupiter's moons, but it will
start in the depths of the Earth, scientists involved in the
project said Monday.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's new
Astrobiology Institute -- a "virtual" institute linking 11
different labs via the Internet -- has come up with its official
road map for the search for life.

Laid out before a meeting of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science in Anaheim, California, the map shows a
convoluted course that wends its way through super-hot undersea
vents, deep into the frozen Antarctic and through oceans before
shooting off toward Mars and Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, and

"Now we have completed a NASA road map for astrobiology," said
David Morrison, director of space at the NASA-Ames Research
Center at Moffett Field, California.

'We can begin to answer these questions'

"It's simply the study of life in the Universe. It is a question
of what was the origin and evolution of life, is there life on
other worlds, and what is the future of life on Earth and in
space," Morrison told a news conference.

"The premise is that the space program has reached a point at
which we can begin to answer these questions."

The Astrobiology Institute is carefully separated from the
non-governmental Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Institute, known as SETI. NASA had launched a similar project in
1992 but less than a year later Congress put an end to what it
considered expensive foolishness.

Now the new institute has secured $9 million for this year and
$20 million for 2000 to try to determine under what conditions
life can survive and thrive, whether these conditions do or ever
did exist elsewhere in the solar system, and whether earthlings
can make it out there in space.

Biologists, chemists, astronomers, physicists and a range of
other specialists will team up for what NASA is billing as a
unique effort to answer such weighty questions.

They will study the surprising findings that creatures can live
in above-boiling temperatures in places like deep undersea
sulphur vents and the thermal springs of Yellowstone Park, as
well as at enormous pressures deep under the Earth's surface,
and in what look like frozen wastes at the Earth's poles.

Oceans in space?

"There are environments on Earth where life does not exist, but
not many," said Jonathan Trent of NASA-Ames. He is most
interested in the microbes and other small creatures living in
the oceans, and points out that 75 percent of the planet is
covered by water.

"An unbiased exploration of the planet for life would
unquestionably begin in the oceans," he said.

The possibility of oceans on Mars and Europa are what make those
locations good candidates for a search for life. Mars obviously
has no ocean now, but might have once, while the Galileo space
mission found evidence there might be a subsurface ocean
sloshing around on Europa.

"There has been an estimate that there could have been as many
as five habitable planets in the solar system," David DesMarais
of NASA-Ames said.

Venus might have been habitable before its runaway greenhouse
effect turned it into a steamy caldron, while Chiron, an
asteroid near Pluto that was recently promoted to planet status,
also has the potential for a liquid ocean, DesMarais said.

Microbes rule

Jack Farmer, an Arizona University geologist whose team will
help direct future Mars missions to collect soil samples, said
his group will look for "an ancient fossil record for an early
period of Martian history when we think life might have been

All of the scientists are clear about what they are looking for,
and it is not little green men.

"Our strategy for looking for life elsewhere would be exactly
like looking for life on Earth," Morrison said. He pointed out
that most of the species of Earth -- in numbers and in mass --
are microbes.

"We won't bother with these strange little creatures with legs
walking about on the surface. We will look for creatures that
really matter -- the microbes."

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Related stories:

*Space worms come home the worse for wear - November
13, 1998
*Discovery brimming with science projects - October
28, 1998
*Space research: Are benefits worth the cost? - July
17, 1996

Related sites:

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*Astrobiology: the study of the living universe 
*American Association for the Advancement of Science
*International Space Station: Science
*NASA's Ames Research Center

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endorsed by CNN Interactive.

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*Earth Matters
     Sunday 1:30pm - 2:00pm ET (10:30am - 11:00am PT)

*Science & Technology Week
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