Symposium to Celebrate 50 Years of NASA's Search for Life

Symposium to Celebrate 50 Years of NASA's Search for Life

NASA and Lockheed Martin are sponsoring a day-long symposium next Thursday, October 15, to celebrate 50 years of exobiology and astrobiology — the search for life elsewhere.

As outlined in a NASA press release, in 1960, NASA established an exobiology program that over the past five decades has expanded into the field of astrobiology that is trying to answer three questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life beyond Earth and, if so, how can we detect it? What is the future of life on Earth and in the universe?

NASA’s Viking missions to Mars, launched in 1975, were the first devoted to attempting to find life on the Red Planet. At the time, scientists concluded there was no evidence of life there, but recent discoveries by the Mars rovers and other spacecraft are reopening that line of inquiry. Lockheed Martin built the Viking spacecraft and most of the other spacecraft that have visited the planet. The United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan have sent probes to Mars, some successful, some not.

Mars is hardly the only location in our solar system with conditions that might support life: several moons of Jupiter and Saturn are high on the list. Beyond the solar system, astrophysicists are searching for other planets — exoplanets — that might support life. Just last week NASA and NSF announced that they found a “potentially habitable” planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581.

The October 14 symposium features astrobiology luminaries and space historians including Lynn Margulis, Baruch Blumberg, Noel Hinners, Roger Launius, Linda Billings, and Steve Benner. The full agenda and RSVP instructions are available on NASA’s website.

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