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NASA's search for space life begins on Earth

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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    Bron: Reuters via CNN, NASA s search for space life begins on Earth January 29, 1999 Web posted at: 5:14 p.m. EST (2214 GMT) ANAHEIM, California (Reuters) --
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 1999
      Bron: Reuters via CNN,
      NASA's search for space life begins on Earth


      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
      beyond.

      "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
      possible."

      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."






      Met Vriendelijke Groeten,
      Jeroen Kumeling
      UFO-Werkgroep Nederland
      Postbus 2191 7500 CD Enschede
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