Venus is One Stop in Our Search for Life

Today, we are on the cusp of amazing discoveries that could tell us more about the possibility of life off the Earth. In fact, astrobiology, which includes the search for life elsewhere, is one of our key priorities at NASA.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers enabled NASA to discover that Mars had a massive ocean, a thick atmosphere, and a magnetosphere that protected it from the radiation of deep space. In other words, at one time Mars was potentially habitable! The Phoenix lander discovered pure water ice on Mars, and the Curiosity rover found complex organic compounds and methane cycles on Mars. The probability of finding life or past life on another world keeps going up.

Now, the Perseverance rover is en route to Mars on NASA’s first dedicated astrobiology mission. Samples returned from this trip could conclusively determine whether microbial life lived on Mars. Upcoming missions like Dragonfly to Saturn’s moon Titan and the Europa Clipper to study Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa will once again assess the possibilities of life on other worlds. Data from Saturn’s moon Enceladus and other bodies point to many exciting discoveries yet to be made.

NASA’s deep space astrophysics capabilities are also being used for astrobiology. Our telescopes not only peer into other galaxies and discover exoplanets around other stars, they also assess exoplanet atmospheres to find the elements necessary to host life and even look for atmospheric biosignatures. An intriguing discovery recently released by the Royal Astronomical Society about the atmosphere of Venus could also point toward biosignatures.

As we seek to expand our knowledge of our own solar system, four spectacular missions are being considered for up to two Discovery missions to be selected next year. Among them are an astrobiology mission to Neptune’s moon Triton and a geological mission to the most volcanically active planetary body in the solar system, Jupiter’s moon Io. The other two missions being considered have proposed missions to Venus. One is focused on understanding its atmosphere and the other is focused on understanding Venus’ geological history. There is no doubt that NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will have a tough time evaluating and selecting from among these very compelling targets and missions, but I know the process will be fair and unbiased. The U.S. is also partnering with Europe on another proposed Venus mission called EnVision that could be selected to go to our next-door neighbor.

As is normal in science, the more we learn, the more questions we have. This is the virtuous cycle of discovery, including the discovery of potential biosignatures on other worlds. We at NASA are incredibly fortunate to have so many opportunities to pursue and such talented scientists, engineers, and partners capable of pursuing them. Every day gets more exciting for all of us and I can’t wait for the next discovery!

Space Resources are the Key to Safe and Sustainable Lunar Exploration

As we at NASA are working aggressively to meet our near-term goal of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, our Artemis program also is focused on taking steps that will establish a safe and sustainable lunar exploration architecture.

Moreover, leveraging commercial involvement as part of Artemis will enhance our ability to safely return to the Moon in a sustainable, innovative, and affordable fashion. The President’s Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources clarifies Congress’ intent clarifies that it is the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. We know a supportive policy regarding the recovery and use of space resources is important to the creation of a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs.

Today, we’re taking a critical step forward by releasing a solicitation for commercial companies to provide proposals for the collection of space resources. When considering such proposals, we will require that all actions be taken in a transparent fashion, in full compliance with the Registration Convention, Article II and other provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, and all of our other international obligations. We are putting our policies into practice to fuel a new era of exploration and discovery that will benefit all of humanity.

The requirements we’ve outlined are that a company will collect a small amount of Moon “dirt” or rocks from any location on the lunar surface, provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location, and conduct an “in-place” transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for our use.

NASA’s goal is that the retrieval and transfer of ownership will be completed before 2024. The solicitation creates a full and open competition, not limited to U.S. companies, and the agency may make one or more awards. NASA’s payment is exclusively for the lunar regolith, with any awardee receiving 10 percent at award, 10 percent upon launch, and the remaining 80 percent upon successful completion. The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date.

Next-generation lunar science and technology is a main objective for returning to the Moon and preparing for Mars. Over the next decade, the Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface and use the Moon to validate deep space systems and operations before embarking on the much farther voyage to Mars. The ability to conduct in-situ resources utilization (ISRU) will be incredibly important on Mars, which is why we must proceed with alacrity to develop techniques and gain experience with ISRU on the surface of the Moon.

The scientific discoveries gained through robust, sustainable, and safe lunar exploration will benefit all of humanity. By continuing to publicly release our data, NASA will ensure the whole world joins us and benefits from the Artemis journey.