Astrobiology: March 2021 Archives

Keith's note: Earlier this week I pointed out that a search for "education" on the NASA.gov website did not even find the main STEM Engagement Office link. So someone went in and modified the search results by hand. Then I mentioned that if you search for "science" you get "Planet 9" link but no mention of SMD. No one bothered to fix that. Now there is the results you get for a search for "astrobiology". I wonder what happens when you search for "aeronautics" ...

Book Review: "Alien Oceans: The Search For Life In The Depths Of Space" by Kevin Hand

"We live on an ocean world with 71% its surface covered by a water. For all of history humans had an intrinsic bias that all inhabited worlds would have large oceans - since we do. Indeed, the large flat plains of our Moon still bear names of imaginary seas based on that bias and early telescopes. That said we held to the notion that life would arise on a world if only it had Earth's basic characteristics - one of which was large bodies of water. Well, we now know that there is more than one way to have a planet with lots of liquid water."

Keith's 18 March update: It has been 24 48 72 96 hours and no mention of this discovery by NASA public affairs or its science mission news sites. I know that NASA HQ knows about this story. The logical place for a news item would be SMD's NASA Science News but they are only interested in planets and stars.

Keith's note: Three novel microorganisms i.e. bacterial strains never before isolated and identified - have been found on the ISS according to a paper published in Frontiers In Microbiology: "Methylobacterium ajmalii sp. nov., Isolated From the International Space Station".

I posted the press release on my Astrobiology.com website - but I used the originating press release title - which could be a little better, BTW since it only scratches the surface of what was discovered: "Bacterial Strains Discovered On The Space Station May Help Grow Plants On Mars".

Let me say this again: three new terrestrial life forms have been discovered - in space - on a space station - using advanced genomics. That is certainly "space biology" and it certainly has relevance to "astrobiology" given that these life forms were discovered growing inside a space station i.e in outer space where they seem to have found an ecological niche. They also have relevance to sensing humans to Mars since they are related to nitrogen fixing which will figure into how we might grow plants in a life support system on other worlds like Mars.

The press release by the journal mentions the funding source: "The research described in this manuscript was funded by a 2012 Space Biology NNH12ZTT001N Grant No. 19-12829-26 under Task Order NNN13D111T awarded to KV, and NASA's 2018 Space Biology (ROSBio) NNH18ZTT001N-FG App B: Flight and Ground Space Biology Research Grant No. 80NSSC19K1501 awarded to CCCW." So NASA Space Biology Program gets a nod - but no connection is made to where space biology fits in the grander scheme of things i.e. the NASA Science Mission Directorate which makes zero mention of this on their science news website.

NASA Astrobiology is not mentioned. The reason NASA will give is that the specific program with this name did not fund it - even though space biology and astrobiology are both within SMD (which is never mentioned). While Mars is mentioned, JPL will make no mention of it on its Mars page since the missions to Mars - even though they are searching for life and testing the potential of supporting terrestrial life there - did not fund this.

The ISS Program Office will not mention this either since SMD/Space Biology funded it - not them. Yet the ISS readily post pictures of the vegetables they grow in space and the research that they do relating to plant growth - if they fund it, that is.

But CASIS/ISSNL - who did not fund or mention this research - did tweet a link to a Scientific American article "NASA Will Map Every Living Thing on the International Space Station". So at least someone at CASIS/ISSNL is paying attention to the overall topic of sequencing in space.

And of course, even though there is some hefty genomics involved NASA Genelab won't mention it since they were not involved. But I am pretty sure that the NASA funded SPACELINE Current Awareness List due out this Friday will certainly make mention. Oh, by the way - NASA's Space Biology, Space Medicine, Astrobiology programs and the ISS program Office and CASIS make no mention of SPACELINE, a NASA-funded research service that puts out a weekly summary of related space life science research. Go figure: NASA has a funded group that finds all of these synergies - yet no one knows that it even exists.

Update: Spaceline did indeed make mention of this research in their 19 March 2021 edition - see item #3.

Think of all the life science and exploration synergies that this discovery could have - if only NASA had the organizational software to seek out such synergies and bring them to light. The public is constantly inquiring as to what NASA does and why it does them. NASA seems to think that they need to justify what they do to their "stakeholders" but they never really do it. Building bridges between the various programs within NASA and things outside the agency would seem to be a prudent thing to do, right? Guess again. There are obvious synergies outside of NASA: how the genomics and microbiology were done, links to agriculture, etc. But NASA would have to cooperate internally to catch all of this and assemble it into a coherent larger picture. Again, NASA doesn't do that.

So .. articles with accurate headlines of "Microbes Unknown to Science Discovered on The International Space Station" will have no mention by any NASA websites. Cool NASA research will be a NASA PR orphan and the media will arrive at their own conclusions without any help from NASA.

Babin Requests Information on Europa Clipper Mission and SLS Use

" I'm expecting a prompt response from NASA answering our questions on their analyses of launch vehicles, as well as cost, schedule, and mission impacts."

Letter From Rep. Babin To NASA Administrator Jurczyk Regarding Europa Clipper and SLS Launch Issues

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2021/babin.s.jpg

Image guide: White = Actual information request from Babin to NASA; Gray = legal gotcha language from a Babin staffer (larger image)

Keith's note: You really should take a look at the letter that Rep. Babin sent to Steve Jurczyk on this whole Europa Clipper/SLS launch decision thing. I gotta tell you, I have neen reading letters between Congress and NASA for 25 years. Some have been rather pointed, confrontational, and snarky. And I have certainly written more than my fair share of snarky gotcha PAO and FOIA requests to NASA designed to make sure that no stone is left unturned. But I have to say that in all the time I have been editing NASAWatch I have never seen a letter from Congress to NASA requesting formation wherein the quasi-legalistic definitions of what constitutes the requested information - and how it is to be identified, sourced, and transmitted to Congress - that uses three times the words of what information is actually being asked for.

Rep. Babin is in the minority, so there is only so much mischief that he can do with whatever NASA provides. But he clearly has some legal eagle on his staff who is trying use their law degree to catch NASA in the act of doing something bad or not being responsive - however trivial the infraction may be.

- Moon 2024 Goal Delays SLS Availability For Europa Clipper, earlier post
- NASA OIG Audit: Management Of NASA's Europa Mission, NASA OIG, earlier post
- NASA OIG Follow-up to May 2019 Audit of Europa Mission: Congressional Launch Vehicle Mandate, earlier post

Book Review: "The Sirens of Mars: Searching For Life On Another World" by Sarah Stewart Johnson

"We humans just landed yet another rover on Mars. As has been the case for decades, each mission to Mars builds upon the successes and failures of those that preceded it. And each mission seeks to ask more profound questions that its predecessors. The Perseverance rover is now unpacking itself and preparing to explore Jezero crater - a mobile astrobiologist in search of evidence that Mars may have once harbored life.

How we got the point where we can send complex droids to Mars was not easy. It all started with people looking through telescopes - often with overactive imaginations. That led to spacecraft barely more sophisticated than a toaster with a shortwave radio which shattered many of those earlier preconceptions. Those early missions blazed a trail of ever increasing complexity and sophistication."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Astrobiology category from March 2021.

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