National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Banner
Solar System Exploration
Science & Technology
NASA's Astrobiology Program: Life in the Universe

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This multidisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry and life on Mars and other bodies in our Solar System, laboratory and field research into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in space.

Artist's concept of a planet near its sun
This multidisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System.

NASA's Astrobiology Program addresses three fundamental 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? In striving to answer these questions and improve understanding of biological, planetary, and cosmic phenomena and relationships among them, experts in astronomy and astrophysics, Earth and planetary sciences, microbiology and evolutionary biology, cosmochemistry, and other relevant disciplines are participating in astrobiology research and helping to advance the enterprise of space exploration.

The Astrobiology Program has four elements: the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology, Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets, and Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development. NASA established the Astrobiology Program in 1996. However, NASA studies in the field of exobiology - a predecessor to astrobiology - date back to the beginning of the U.S. space program.

NASA funded its first exobiology project in 1959 and established an Exobiology Program in 1960. NASA's Viking Missions to Mars, launched in 1976, included three biology experiments designed to look for possible signs of life. In the 21st century, astrobiology is a focus of a growing number of NASA solar system exploration missions. As noted above, exobiology research is now an element of the Astrobiology Program. (For more information on the history of NASA's Astrobiology Program, see The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology, by Steven J. Dick and James E. Strick, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 2004).

Astrobiology is a cross-cutting theme in all of NASA's space science endeavors, knitting together research in astrophysics, earth science, and heliophysics as well as planetary science. Astrobiology Roadmap prepared in consultation with the scientific community, outlines multiple pathways for research and exploration and indicates how they might be prioritized and coordinated. The Astrobiology Program also solicits advice from the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council (see publications page.)

The Astrobiology Program is managed by the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. The Astrobiology Program is closely coordinated with NASA's Planetary Protection and Mars Exploration programs.

Last Updated: 27 February 2011

Science Features
Astrobiology
Astronomy Features
Power
Technology Assessment Reports
Sungrazing Comets

 

Best of NASA Science
NASA Science Highlights
Technology Features
Propulsion
Lectures & Discussions

Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writer: Autumn Burdick
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> USA.gov
> ExpectMore.gov
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 27 Feb 2011