Are we alone in the universe? This is a question that is quintessential to the human experience. We all want to know if there is other intelligent life out there in the vastness of space. A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is urging National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make the search for life an integral part of their mission statement.

Astrobiology: A scientific underdog

For decades, astrobiology (the scientific study of and search for alien life) has been considered a relatively unimportant and marginalized field. There simply did not seem to be enough evidence out there for planets that could support life.

NASA

Scientists in related fields even called astrobiology a philosophic, as opposed to a true science. The lack of evidence to test, study and draw concrete conclusions from meant that few people were willing to devote their lives to such a marginalized field.

NAS and NASA

The recent meeting of a blue-ribbon committee of NAS members resulted in the publishing of a report that increasingly urges the scientists at NASA to make the search for life on other worlds a top priority.

NASA

This report comes at a critical time, right as the scientific communities of astronomy and planetary science are working towards their decadal surveys. These once-a-decade efforts strive to find their fields’ most important questions and come up with new projects and experiments to try to answer them. Now is the time for astrobiologists to step forward and suggest ways that NASA could search for life.

New methods and technologies

The search for life has been relegated to only secondary importance for so long largely due to the fact that there was little evidence of places that life could possibly survive in the universe.

M. Kornmesser

However, the scientific progress of recent years has proved that there are literally thousands of planets just in our small corner of the universe that could potentially support life! This key fact, more than any others, is what is driving the committee behind this report and many other scientists to say that we need to make the search for alien life a vital part of our efforts at space exploration.