Astrobiology Strategic Plan Update

The 2014 Astrobiology Strategic Plan is now under construction. To ensure that the 2014 Plan is aspirational, inspirational, and inclusive of the diversity of the astrobiology community, the Astrobiology Program engaged the services of an innovation consulting firm, KnowInnovation The Strategic Plan enterprise was launched on May 6th with the first in a series of five hour-long webinars, each broadly focused on a topic connected to the 2008 Roadmap but aimed at astrobiology’s future. Following each of these NASA PI-led webinars, over 500 members of the astrobiology community engaged in a spirited week long, on-line debate that produced a rich record of controversy and critical knowledge gaps.

The second stage of Strategic Plan-making was launched the week of June 17th. Sixty scientists gathered for four days at the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, VA at a NASA meeting organized by the NRC. The goal of the Wallops Island gathering was to build, by brainstorming, argument and consensus, a collection of working documents, each focused on a broad research theme that could be easily explained and justified, then broken down into set of sub-questions, any one or combination of which would provoke further community input, or even stimulate a specific research project.

The output of the June face-to-face Strategic Plan enterprise was twenty-one working documents that encompassed research themes as diverse as:

  • How did bio-relevant elements evolve into molecules?
  • How can we best overcome our ignorance about microbial life on Earth?
  • How would we find and identify an inhabited planet?
  • How can we enhance the utility of biosignatures as a tool to search for life in the Solar System & beyond?

The next steps in the creation of the new Strategic Plan will move the process back on-line. Starting in September, the 21 working documents will be published on the website and the astrobiology community will be invited to review them. One webinar will be held for each document, after which community members will be allowed to provide comments. Community members will also be able to add documents if a compelling case can be articulated for the existence of a gap in the existing documents. In the January-to-February 2014 timeframe, the authors of the working documents will gather, either physically or virtually, to incorporate the community’s comments. A face-to-face integration workshop will be held in late February to create a first draft of the Strategic Plan. This draft will be reviewed by the Planetary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council and, possibly, an ad hoc committee of the National Research Council. Following the consideration of comments arising from these reviews, a final draft will be published in April 2014.

A detailed summary of the face-to-face workshop written by a participant may be found at 2014 Astrobiology Strategic Plan.

In conclusion, this is your community and NASA wants your input. Be part of this exciting process and make your voice heard!

Michael New,
Astrobiology Discipline Scientist
[email protected]