Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, National Research Council
Astrobiology is a scientific discipline devoted to the study of life in the universe--its origin, evolution, distribution, and future. It brings together the physical and biological sciences to address some of the most fundamental questions of the natural world: How do living systems emerge? How do habitable worlds form and how do they evolve? Does life exist on worlds other than Earth? The tremendous breadth and depth of this endeavor requires interdisciplinary investigation in order to be fully appreciated and examined.
As part of a concerted effort to undertake such a challenge, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) was established in 1998 as an innovative way to develop the field of astrobiology and provide a scientific framework for flight missions. Now that the NAI has been in existence for almost a decade, the time is ripe to assess its achievements.
At the request of NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) the Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute undertook the assignment to determine the progress made by the NAI in developing the field of astrobiology (Appendix A). It must be emphasized that the purpose of this study was not to undertake a review of the scientific accomplishments of NASA's Astrobiology program, in general, or the NAI, in particular. Rather, the objective of the study is to evaluate the success of the NAI in achieving its stated goals of:
The committee's assessment of the NAI's progress in these five areas can be found in Chapters 2 to 6, respectively. In evaluating the success of the NAI in achieving these five goals, the committee was requested to address the following considerations:
The committee's responses to these four criteria can be found in subsections in Chapters 2 to 6. Specific recommendations and suggestions as to how these recommendations may be implemented can be found in the final subsection of the same chapters.
Information on the origins of NASA's Astrobiology program and the NAI; a summary of comments on the role, status, and scientific importance of astrobiology from previous NRC reports; and some information on the budgetary history and the impact of recent cuts to the Astrobiology budget can be found in Chapter 1.