DPS 2001 meeting, November 2001
Session 14. Decadal Survey Posters
Displayed, 9:00am Tuesday - 3:00pm Saturday, Highlighted, Tuesday, November 27, 2001, 5:00-7:00pm, French Market Exhibit Hall

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[14.09] The Role of Astrobiology in Solar System Exploration: Report from the NASA Astrobiology Institute to the NRC Solar-System Exploration Steering Group

B. M. Jakosky (University of Colorado at Boulder), D. J. Des Marais (NASA/Ames Research Center), NASA Astrobiology Institute Executive Council 0

Astrobiology as related to solar-system exploration addresses far more than just the search for life in our solar system. It is about understanding the planets in our solar system as representing different outcomes in their formation, the nature of processes that affected those outcomes, and how those same processes might have operated elsewhere. It is about understanding planetary evolution and its connection to habitability as well as the actual distribution of life. It is about looking at the solar system as an integrated system, and seeing the connections between the evolution of the inner solar system, the outer solar system, and small bodies, as viewed through the connecting perspective of habitability and biology. In this context, finding no life on Mars or Europa is not a failure but is an important scientific result; it allows us to better understand the conditions required for a planet to support life and the relationship between biology and planetary processes.

The strength of the connections between planetary exploration and astrobiology is clear if one examines a list of spacecraft missions currently operating or under development; most, if not all, are addressing questions and themes that are linked strongly to astrobiology.

Astrobiology is an integrating theme that brings together a substantial fraction of the issues in solar-system exploration under a common thread of understanding planetary habitability. This theme allows us to explain to the non-expert the connections between the component disciplines within planetary science, and to do so in a way that most people will appreciate as addressing core issues in human thought.

Astrobiology is certainly one of the several highest-level themes that unites and integrates solar-system exploration and, as such, will need to be strongly integrated into the solar system strategy.

The full text of the report from the NAI to the NRC is available at the DPS decadal strategy web site.

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