Our Search for Life’s Origin and Extent in the Universe

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

4:15 pm - 5:00 pm


Location: International Center

Two questions have long driven humanity’s curiosity: Where do we come from? And are we alone? In the past, the search for life was a thing of science fiction. Today, we are all embarking on this quest in a very real way together. Join us as we discuss NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD) bold missions in pursuit of life beyond our own world and the efforts necessary to bring home this amazing science.

Our panel’s exploration begins right here, in our own local laboratory. NASA SMD’s Heliophysics and Earth Science Divisions explore the delicate relationship between our Sun and Earth, teaching us more about our own heliosphere, the only one we know harbors life. Our growing fleet of Heliophysics missions, including the groundbreaking Parker Solar Probe, help us unravel how our Sun works and in turn how it, and the solar wind it produces, interacts with our home planet, a world teeming with life. 

Our search for life continues as NASA SMD’s Planetary Science Division takes us farther out to the solar system’s many other ocean worlds, most of them moons orbiting the giant planets of the outer solar system. The Europa Clipper flagship mission and the recently awarded Dragonfly mission will explore two of these ocean worlds: Jupiter’s moon Europa, which holds twice as much water as Earth; and Saturn’s largest moon Titan, an alien world with complex organics and two solvents, water and methane, offering us tantalizing new information on extraterrestrial habitability and prebiotic chemistry.

NASA SMD’s Astrophysics Division extends exploration to beyond our solar system. With the Kepler telescope’s discovery that planets are a natural outcome of the star formation process, we now know there are more planets than stars in the universe.  The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will observe the atmospheres of these worlds, determine their chemical fingerprints and reveal whether other Earth-like worlds are common in nearby solar systems.

These pioneering missions require large, interdisciplinary teams that span government, education, and commercial sectors. Strengthening these partnerships, along with continued advocacy and technology investments, will maintain these missions’ cadence and success. NASA’s commercial partners must continue to rise to the challenge to help solve the engineering and programmatic challenges of building and deploying uniquely instrumented spacecraft. Our continued exploration of habitable worlds near and far will reshape our understanding of the origin and extent of life itself.

Opening Remarks: 

  • Dr. Jason Kalirai


  • Dipak Srinivasan


  • Dr. Mercedes Lopez-Morales
  • Tommy Sanford
  • Dr. Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle
  • Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen