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Astrobiology Instruments, Methods, & Missions in the Next Decade

Michael Storrie-Lombardi, M.D. (Kinohi Institute, USA)

Multiple space missions including landers, rovers, and orbital instruments are either on site, on route, or being developed to evaluate the Moon, Mars, Venus, and the icy moons of the outer planets for evidence of past or present habitability. ESA's Mars Express has produced evidence for recent glacial activity at Hecates Tholus, water ice on a crater floor, atmospheric water vapor and methane, and spectral signatures of phyllosilicates and clay minerals on the Mars surface. Spirit and Opportunity continue to explore the Mars surface. ESA's Venus Express is orbiting Venus and NASA's Messenger spacecraft recently returned detailed images of Venus as it passed by on its way to Mercury. Cassini-Huygens mission continues its exploration of Saturn's icy moons. The Phoenix Mars Mission is on its way to investigate the habitability of the Martian circumpolar arctic plain where the Mars Odyssey Spacecraft High Energy Neutron Detector found evidence for subsurface water. Development is proceeding rapidly on ESA's Aurora robotic mission ExoMars and NASA's Mars Science Laboratory. Both missions plan to include instrumentation designed to explore past and present habitability. ESA's Columbus Module Biolab to study microbial life on the International Space Station should be in place in December 2007. On Earth, expeditions are planned or already in progress to identify microbial extremophiles in wide variety of environments: Lake Vostok, Lake Untersee and other Antarctic subglacial lakes, the Atacama Desert, haloalkaline soda lakes and the high lakes of the Andes, the Houghton impact crater in the Canadian arctic, the Siberian permafrost, the Kamchatka geysers, and deep-sea hydrothermal vents. The novel microbial extremophiles inhabiting these extreme environments on Earth are important not only for understanding the evolution and diversity of life, but also for guiding us in the development of the novel tools and techniques required to search for life elsewhere in the Solar System and neighboring star systems. The focus of this seminar is the interface between tools, missions, and the core scientific data required to constrain our theories about the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the Universe.


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