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Astrobiology

Revised: March 2012

"Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.", Bill Watterson, The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes

Is Earth the only world that supports life? The scientific question of life on other worlds stretches back to the Renaissance, when Johannes Kepler, best known in astronomy for his trio of laws that define the paths of moons and planets, decided to unwind a little by writing a book called Somnium, in which he describes the inhabitants of the Moon, whose surface had just been revealed by Galileo. In spite of hopes, fears, and thousands of pages and dozens of reels of science fiction, Kepler's dream has never been realized, although tantalizing hints have surfaced as the years have passed:

  • Organic compounds, such as methane, are in the atmospheres of the giant planets of the outer solar system and of one of Saturn's moons, Titan. These compounds are also found in comets, meteorites, and nebulæ, the clouds of gas and dust out of which stars and planets are formed.
  • Simple forms of life can survive exposure to very harsh conditions. For instance, bacteria were found to have survived for two years on the Moon in parts of Surveyor III which were brought back to Earth by the crew of Apollo XII.
  • Liquid water may lie under the icy surfaces of another of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, and three of Jupiter's moons, Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede. There is abundant evidence that water once flowed freely on the surface of Mars, and some signs that Venus once had more water than its current oven-like temperature would allow today.
  • Planets orbit other stars in the Milky Way.
This bibliography covers NASA's part in Humanity's quest to discover life-bearing worlds other than ours. If you are a NASA HQ employee, please consider subscribing to our news alert on exoplanets to get the latest news.

All items are available at the Headquarters Library, except as noted. NASA Headquarters employees and contractors: Call x0168 or email Library@hq.nasa.gov for information on borrowing or in-library use of any of these items. Members of the public: Contact your local library for the availability of these items. NASA Headquarters employees can request additional materials or research on this topic. The Library welcomes your comments or suggestions about this webpage.


Contents: Policies Books E-books Articles and Reports Internet Resources

NASA Policies

The following policies and procedural requirements can be accessed by anyone through the NASA Online Directives Information System:
 
NASA Policy Directive 8020.7G: Biological Contamination Control for Outbound and Inbound Planetary Spacecraft
 
NASA Procedural Requirements 8020.12D: Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions

Books

Des Marais, David J., et al. The NASA Astrobiology Roadmap. Larchmont, NY: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 2008.
QH326 .A887 2008 BOOKSTACKS
Note: Reproduced from Astrobiology, vol. VIII, no. 4, 2008, p. 715-730.
 
Dick, Steven J., and Mark L. Lupisella. Cosmos and Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2009. ISBN: 9780160831195
QB981 .C8263 2009 BOOKSTACKS
Available from the NASA Technical Reports Server as document no. 20100003003.
 
Kaufman, Marc. First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2011. ISBN: 9781439109007
QB54 .K38 2011 BOOKSTACKS
 
Meltzer, Michael. When Biospheres Collide: A History of NASA's Planetary Protection Programs. Washington, DC: NASA Aeronautics and Space Administration: For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 2011. ISBN: 9780160853272
TL1499 .M45 2011 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the NASA History Office
 
National Research Council. Committee on an Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars. An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007. ISBN: 9786610934669
QB641 .A865 2007 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press
 
__________. Committee on the Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems. The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007. ISBN: 030910484X
QB54 .C648 2007 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press
 
__________. Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life. The Astrophysical Context of Life. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005. ISBN: 0309096278
QH325 .A88 2005 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press
 
__________. Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780309114974
QH326 .A87 2008 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press
 
__________. Committee on the Review of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions. Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780309130738
TL799.M3 N384 2009 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press
 
__________.Task Group on Planetary Protection Requirements for Venus Missions. Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Venus Missions: Letter Report. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2006.
TL943 .V46 2006 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press

E-books

The e-book listed below is available to the general public through the National Academies Press.
 
Task Group on Organic Environments in the Solar System. Exploring Organic Environments in the Solar System. 2007. ISBN: 978-0-309-10235-3
 

Articles and Reports

Callahan, Michael P., et al. "Carbonaceous Meteorites Contain a Wide Range of Extraterrestrial Nucleobases", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. CVIII, no. 34 (Aug, 23, 2011), p. 13995-13998.
Available from the NASA Technical Reports Server as document no. 20110020694.
 
Glavin, Daniel P., et al. "Extraterrestrial Amino Acids in the Almahata Sitta Meteorite", Meteoritics and Planetary Science, vol. XLV, Issue 10-11, (Oct./Nov. 2010), p. 1695–1709.
Available from the NASA Technical Reports Server as document no. 20100032884.
 
Kaltenegger, L., W.G. Henning, and D.D. Sasselov. "Detecting Volcanism on Extrasolar Planets", The Astronomical Journal, vol. CXL, no. 5 (Nov. 2010), p. 1370-1380.
Available from the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System.
 
Robinson, Tyler D., et al. "Earth as an Extrasolar Planet: Earth Model Validation Using EPOXI Earth Observations", Astrobiology, vol. XI, no. 5, 2011, p. 393-408.
Available from the NASA Technical Reports Server as document no. 20110015546.
 
Seager, S., et al. "Vegetation's Red Edge: A Possible Spectroscopic Biosignature of Extraterrestrial Plants", Astrobiology, vol. V, no. 3 (June 2005), p. 372-390.
Available from the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System.
 
Vogt, Steven S., et al. "The Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey: A 3.1 M♁ Planet in the Habitable Zone of the Nearby M3V Star Gliese 581", The Astrophysical Journal, vol. DCCXIII, no. 1 (Nov. 1, 2010), p. 954-965.
Available from the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System.
 

Internet Resources

Conley, Catharine. Office of Planetary Protection. March 13, 2012. [March 13, 2012].
http://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov/
 
Garber, Steve. SETI: The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. Oct. 19, 2009 [March 13, 2012].
http://history.nasa.gov/seti.html
 
Harvey, Samantha. Jupiter: Moons. Feb. 7, 2012. [March 13, 2012].
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Jupiter&Display=Sats
 
__________. Saturn: Moons. Feb. 8, 2012. [March 13, 2012].
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Saturn&Display=Sats
 
Rodriguez, Joshua. Exoplanet Exploration Program. Feb. 3, 2012 [March 13, 2012].
http://exep.jpl.nasa.gov/
 
__________. Planetquest: Exoplanet Exploration. Feb. 29, 2012 [March 13, 2012].
http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/
 
Scalice, Daniella. NASA Astrobiology Program. March 9, 2012 [March 13, 2012].
http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/
 
Van Dijk, Alexander. Kepler: A Search for Habitable Planets. Feb. 10, 2012. [March 13, 2012].
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/main/index.html
 
Williams, David R. Evidence of Ancient Martian Life in Meteorite ALH84001? Jan. 9, 2005 [March 13, 2012].
http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/marslife.html

Last Updated: March 2012