The Astrobiology Sky Is Falling
Rocco Mancinelli (Principal Investigator, SETI Institute) made an impassioned plea on Space.com for continued funding of astrobiology projects, calling threatened funding cuts a “national disaster” if not reversed. And what is astrobiology? He defined it as “the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.” His reasons for keeping astrobiology a national priority: trying to understand the origin of life, searching for the extent of life beyond the earth, determining whether Mars will be a safe habitat for humans some day, and advancing the human urge to explore. Funding cuts would leave thousands of scientists on a limb, discourage a whole generation of young scientists, and cause the USA to lose its leadership in the world, he argued.
For a science born in 1996, its funding record is impressive. Mancinelli revealed, “NASA essentially developed astrobiology as a whole new interdisciplinary scientific field from scratch. It now has thousands of researchers, many international affiliates, multiple peer reviewed journals and is growing” (emphasis added). He continued, “ Even NSF [the National Science Foundation] has been amazed by what NASA’s astrobiology program has accomplished.” What tangible results other than searching, speculating and writing reports, however, he left unsaid (see 01/28/2005). Clearly, no one has yet found life in outer space, and what has been found about life is more and more complexity. Mancinelli also did not specify what kind of space science and engineering would not have gone on without the astrobiology label. Ironically, the very Mars meteorite that launched astrobiology is now largely believed to be dead (11/15/2003).
The smart money is on intelligent design. The next generation of bright, enthusiastic researchers knows that nanotechnology, biomimetics, genetic engineering and information-based research is where it’s at (e.g., 11/19/2005, 10/29/2005). Sorry, astrobiology; hope you enjoyed your little philosophical fling on company time (01/07/2005). Don’t let us stop you. You can continue all you want – on your own euro.