Astrobiology is defined in the 1996 NASA Strategic Plan as "The study of the living universe." At NASA's Ames Research Center, this endeavor encompasses the use of space to understand life's origin, evolution, and destiny in the universe. Life's origin refers to understanding the origin of life in the context of the origin and diversity of planetary systems. Life's evolution refers to understanding how living systems have adapted to Earth's changing environment, to the all-pervasive force of gravity, and how they may adapt to environments beyond Earth. Life's destiny refers to making long-term human presence in space a reality, and laying the foundation for understanding and managing changes in Earth's environment.
The first Astrobiology Workshop was held at Ames on September 9-11, 1996, bringing together a diverse group of researchers to discuss the following general questions:
The objectives of the Workshop included: discussing the scope of astrobiology, strengthening existing efforts for the study of life in the universe, identifying new cross-disciplinary programs with the greatest potential for scientific return, and suggesting steps needed to bring this program to reality.
Ames has been assigned the lead role for astrobiology by NASA in recognition of its strong history of leadership in multidisciplinary research in the space, Earth, and life sciences and its pioneering work in studies of the living universe. This initial science workshop was established to lay the foundation for what is to become a national effort in astrobiology, with anticipated participation by the university community, other NASA centers, and other agencies.
This workshop (the first meeting of its kind ever held) involved life, Earth, and space scientists in a truly interdisciplinary sharing of ideas related to life in the universe, and by all accounts was a resounding success. It was broadly interdisciplinary in attendance, with the following breakdown of the invited participants: 23 astronomers and physicists, 37 Earth and planetary scientists, and 38 life scientists. Attendance was 250 on the first day. The smaller workshop held on the next two days was nominally restricted to about 100 invitees, but in fact it attracted an overflow crowd. Peak attendance was actually reached during the final afternoon. Numerous phone calls were received from the public wanting access to additional information. The news media called several times after the workshop to request updates on and access to the latest thinking, discussion, and speculation.
This report is a summary of the highlights of the workshop. The first section deals with the current state of knowledge in the fields that comprise astrobiology as presented by the invited speakers. This was widely considered to be one of the most significant aspects of the workshop, as participants were appraised of the latest thinking in fields outside their own. The next section identifies new cross-disciplinary research topics which resulted from new information exchanged among all of the relevant fields. These topics were developed during small group discussions organized around the 5 key questions noted above and occurred during two "working lunches." They were summarized and discussed during the final afternoon plenary session. The last section contains suggestions for follow-on activities which were proposed by workshop participants during the final afternoon plenary session. The report concludes with appendices containing the workshop program, abstracts, and participant list.
There was no attempt made at the workshop to reach consensus on research priorities, recommendations, or funding requirements. Rather this workshop was intended to stimulate cross-discipline thinking and new ideas for productive research.
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Last updated Feb-11-1997
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