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House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Assesses Progress in the Search for Life beyond Earth

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to review the current state of the science related to the search for life in the universe. Testifying before the Committee were Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Dr. Jonathan Lunine, Professor, Director of Radiophysics and Space Research, Cornell University; Dr. Jacob Bean, Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago; and Dr. Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center.

Members and witnesses discussed the potential ramifications of yesterday’s announcement by NASA that liquid water currently flows intermittently on Mars; the data that is needed to determine if an exoplanet is habitable and even inhabited; the technology needed to facilitate the search for life; and the destinations in our solar system that offer promise of past or extant life.

Democratic Members of the Committee highlighted the importance of the National Academies Pathways to Exploration study which found that the horizon goal for human space exploration should be Mars and inquired about NASA’s response to that study. Democratic Members also emphasized NASA’s role in inspiring children and young adults to pursue STEM studies.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “The search for life beyond Earth is a topic this Committee has devoted a lot of attention to over the past two years. It is my hope that our witnesses will also take some time to discuss how their research activities can be used to help foster excitement in our young people and spur them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s important, because those young people are the future science and technological leaders and innovators who will be critical to our Nation’s growth and progress going forward. While it’s exciting to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, I hope we don’t neglect nurturing the intelligent life we have right here in this country now.”

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), said, “Yesterday’s NASA announcement that liquid water flows intermittently on Mars is the latest in a string of important science discoveries that add pieces to the puzzle. NASA’s work, as demonstrated by yesterday’s finding, is critical to inspiring all Americans, and especially our younger generation. The excitement generated by NASA’s exploration of space was clearly evident over the past weekend at the well-attended Goddard Space Flight Center Open House in Greenbelt, Maryland. I want to commend NASA, the Goddard Space Flight Center and its supporting contractors for a job well-done. I hope that Congress recognizes the vital contributions of NASA’s work and its unique ability to inspire the American people.”

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