Guest: Dr. Scott Sandford; Topics: Astrobiology, astrochemistry, searching for extraterrestrial life, organic & chemical compounds, exoplanets & more. Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website, www.thespaceshow.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.
We welcomed Dr. Scott Sandford of NASA Ames to the show to discusses searching for extraterrestrial life. During the first segment of our 90 minute program, Dr. Sandford provided us with a working definition for astrobiology plus I asked him why so far as we know it life just exists on Earth and if Earth was unique in the solar system or even beyond our solar system. In responding to my question, our guest provided us with two way of looking at life on Earth. One way was to track back current life to the oldest point possible. The second way was go back in time to take a close look at and examine the chemistry and physics that we believe led to life. Our guest then talked about being able to similate past environments in the lab and the fact that there can be complex chemistry which happens to be abiotic. We then talked about the role of amino acids and found out that there does not have to be life to have amino acids.
Dr. Sandford received several email questions. One was about life detection instrumentation on robotic missions. Our guest discussed such instrumentation but we learned such instruments were not always conclusive. He cited organic compounds and carbon as an example. He also said it may be very difficult to correctly interpret the findings from such instruments.
Another discussion topic was people versus robots for exploration. Another listener asked about sample return missions regarding comets and asteroids and their being subject to planetary protection rules. I read a listener email regarding the congressionally mandated super robotic mission to Europa using two SLS launchers.
Later in the segment, our guest was asked if there was a role for amateurs in the search for life off Earth. Our guest mention the Stardust Mission as an example with the Stardust At Home Project. He was asked if the OSIRIS-Rex mission about to be launched would also include an at home project. He said no because of the material and method of collection. Don't miss his full explanation. A few other topics were discussed before the close of the first segment.
Exoplanets were up for discussion in the second segment. Furthermore, Dr. Sandford was asked what impact he thought there might be on society if life off Earth was actually confirmed. This was an interesting discussion so don't miss it.
B John in Sweden asked additional questions about the OSIRIS Rex project and Jack wanted to know about astrobiology in other countries. This latter topic opened the door for Scott to tell us about the NASA Astrobotics Institute (https://nai.nasa.gov) and the 13 teams including international teams. Dr. Sandford is the team leader for one of the teams, the NASA Ames Research Center Team (https://nai.nasa.gov/teams/can-7/arc). You can subscribe to the Institute's mailing list and follow the progress of the various teams as they release relevant news to the public.
Shelly, a present day high school student, asked about the academic path to a career in astrobiology. As you will hear, it is a multidisciplinary field with lots of potential paths forward. Before the program ended, Dr. Sandford was asked about Pluto. He talked about chemistry on the surface of Pluto and the lab simulations done of the Pluto ice environment. Don't miss what he had to say about this. Before we ended the discussion, Judy in Seattle asked him what about his work and the subject matter BORED him the most, not including paperwork. Again, don't miss what our guest said in response to her question. He was then asked if he thought a private commercial mission could do a life searching mission and make money on it. He was not sure about it. I threw out a totally fantasy driven potential candidate for such a mission but even were it to make money for a company having the guts to try it, I doubt we will see such a mission anytime soon. As the show was about to end, Alan in Oklahoma City asked if would be disappointed if past life was confirmed in space but not present life. You might be surprised by what Scott said to Alan so don't miss it!
Please post your comments/questions in the comments section of this archived program on TSS website. You can reach Dr. Sandford through his NASA email address or me.