Following the Astrobiology Roadmap: Origins, Habitability and Future Exploration

TitleFollowing the Astrobiology Roadmap: Origins, Habitability and Future Exploration
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsO'Rourke, A, Zoumplis, A, Wilburn, P, Lee, MD, Lee, Z, Vecina, M, Mercader, K
Book TitleAstrobiology: Current, Evolving, and Emerging Perspectives
PublisherCaister Academic Press
CityNorfolk, United Kingdom

Astrobiology asks three fundamental questions as outlined by the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap: 1. How did Life begin and evolve?; Is there Life elsewhere in the Universe?; and, What is the future of Life on Earth? As we gain perspective on how Life on Earth arose and adapted to its many niches, we too gain insight into how a planet achieves habitability. Here on Earth, microbial Life has evolved to exist in a wide range of habitats from aquatic systems to deserts, the human body, and the International Space Station (ISS). Landers, rovers, and orbiter missions support the search for signatures of Life beyond Earth, by generating data on surface and subsurface conditions of other worlds. These have provided evidence for water activity, supporting the potential for extinct or extant Life. To investigate the putative ecologies of these systems, we study extreme environments on Earth. Several locations on our planet provide analog settings to those we have detected or expect to find on neighboring and distant worlds. Whereas, the field of space biology uses the ISS and low gravity analogs to gain insight on how transplanted Earth-evolved organisms will respond to extraterrestrial environments. Modern genomics allows us to chronicle the genetic makeup of such organisms and provides an understanding of how Life adapts to various extreme environments.