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starship-design: NASA Selects Initial Members of New Virtual Astrobiology Institute

This I received today, especially the "the identification and development
of biomarkers to determine terrestrial and extraterrestrial biosignatures".
May be of use to the SD project.



Douglas Isbell/Don Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC                         May 19, 1998
(Phone:  202/358-1547)

RELEASE:  98-84


     NASA has selected 11 academic and research institutions as 
the initial members of the agency's new Astrobiology Institute, 
thus launching a major component of NASA's Origins Program.

     The selected institutions represent the best of 53 uniformly 
first-class proposals submitted, according to NASA officials.  
Given that the institute members will remain at their home 
organizations, the partnership among the members and NASA will be 
carried out primarily via the Internet.  This electronic 'virtual' 
Institute will bring together astrophysicists, biologists, 
chemists, physicists, planetologists and geologists to conduct 
interdisciplinary research on the multifaceted issue of life in 
the Universe and its cosmic implications.  It will also help to 
train young scientists in this emerging field.

     "These initial members of NASA's Astrobiology Institute will 
be at the forefront of the increasingly important link between 
astronomy and biology, which has been a fundamental interest of 
mine for the past several years," said NASA Administrator 
Daniel S. Goldin.  "The 'office hallways' of this virtual 
institute will be the fiber optic cables of the Next Generation 
Internet, and the groundbreaking research that this group 
generates will help guide our space exploration priorities well 
into the 21st century."
The selected initial members of the Institute are:

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
University of California, Los Angeles 
University of Colorado, Boulder
Arizona State University, Tempe
Pennsylvania State University, University Park

*Research Institutions
Carnegie Institution, Washington, DC
The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 
Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA

*NASA Centers
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

     NASA has developed the Origins Program with its Office of 
Space Science to search for signs of life in the Universe, both in 
our Solar System and beyond.  The Astrobiology Institute will 
foster the interdisciplinary research and training necessary for 
future exploration of this theme.  Funding for the Institute will 
begin with $9 million in 1999 and $20 million in 2000.  This total 
is expected to grow as research directions are developed and the 
capabilities of the Next Generation Internet are expanded and 
fully utilized.

     The Astrobiology Institute members will conduct a broad range 
of interdisciplinary and synergistic research on topics including:  
the formation of organic compounds important to the origins of 
life, such as from meteorites; the formation and characteristics 
of habitable planets; the emergence of self-replicating systems 
and possible pre-biotic worlds; how the Earth and life have 
influenced each other over time, including the evolution of 
ancient metabolism and the interplay of evolved oxygen; the 
evolution of multicellular organisms and the evolution of complex 
systems in simple animals; organisms in extreme environments such 
as hydrothermal vents; and the identification and development of 
biomarkers to determine terrestrial and extraterrestrial 

     The selection of the members, encompassing academic 
institutions and government labs, was based on a competitive 
evaluation process that began with the release of a Cooperative 
Agreement Announcement in October 1997.  The next solicitation 
opportunity for new members will take place in about a year.

     For further information on the Institute and the field of 
astrobiology, see the following Internet site:


     The Institute's director and staff will reside at NASA's Ames 
Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.  NASA Ames will manage the 
Institute's operations for NASA's offices of Space Science, Earth 
Science, and Human Exploration and Development of Space at NASA 
Headquarters in Washington, DC.

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